In this kaleidoscopic feat of narrative, an Oxford English professor in the 1960s attempts to create a working fictional world like those of Tolkien and Lewis, but more rational and functional. Somehow the professor’s neighbor, a young girl who feeds his cat, winds up inside his fantastical realm. Meanwhile, a “psychomathematician” from the future is trying to resolve the paradoxes of time travel vs. parallel universes. This rollicking and twisty novel will keep you riveted and surprise you again and again.
For lovers of sci-fi/fantasy that engages in philosophical conundrums and plausible scenarios of ingenious design, look no further than Ted Chiang. His latest collection of masterful stories is filled with brilliant tales of eerily believable technology, wondrously creative worlds, and endless fun.
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Any chance we have to recommend the unjustly overlooked Connie Willis, we’ll take it. Her novel To Say Nothing of the Dog is a hilarious romp of time travel, moving between the 1940s and the future, and filled with wonderful characters and an indefatigable imagination.
The Bone Clocks
Mitchell’s epic fantasy novel spans numerous decades, involves a secret cabal of mystics, and features a plot that is as complex and breathtaking as his other masterwork, Cloud Atlas. The Bone Clocks, though, is a more cohesive and satisfying novel, as the multiple narrative threads and conspiratorial fantasies come to a unifying climax that’ll leave you gasping.
Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds
Stranger Things, another TV show filled with deep mysteries, adventuring children, and dark other-worlds, spawned a series of novels, beginning with Bond’s Suspicious Minds, which delves into the life of Eleven’s mother and the town of Hawkins in the late 1960s.
The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A boy stumbles on a book in a place called “the cemetery of forgotten books,” but when he tries to find other books by the same author, he discovers a sinister plot to destroy every one of the author’s books. A haunting and stunning work literary magic, The Shadow of the Wind was followed by numerous sequels, most recently The Labyrinth of the Spirits.
The Library of the Unwritten
A. J. Hackwith
The protagonist of Hackwith’s novel is a librarian in Hell. Specifically, of the “Unwritten Wing,” a place where unfinished works of great authors go upon their creators’ deaths. A dark and world-jumping epic, The Library of the Unwritten is the first in a series.
The City of Ember Deluxe Edition
Set in a future where one of the last refuges for humanity has begun to collapse, The City of Ember features beautiful and evocative imagery: a city of lamps that begin to flicker. A young girl, with the help of an ancient message, tries to save the city before the lights are extinguished for good.
The Gone World
A gripping mystery of space- and time-travel, involving a murdered family and a missing girl, The Gone World is like a hybrid of His Dark Materials’ thought-provoking ideas and the gritty thrum of great detective novels.
The Starless Sea
Another fascinating yarn featuring enigmatic books and enchanting libraries, Morgenstern’s follow-up to her mega-success The Night Circus focuses on a grad student who finds in a volume of fables a story from his own life, and who tries to discover how his life came to appear in the pages of this book.
An altogether unique work of fantasy, The Vorrh is an enormous forest on the outskirts of a colonial village. Unexplored and unexplained, the Vorrh is surrounded by conjecture, rumor, and legend, until one man vows to plunge himself into it, to become the first person to travel into the strange and menacing landscape. The Vorrh is the first in a trilogy.
Three Moments of an Explosion
Like Philip Pullman, Ted Chiang, David Mitchell, and B. Catling, China Miéville’s work is rife with provocative ideas, philosophical inquiry, and deep intelligence. His collection Three Moments of an Explosion—in which icebergs float over a city, oil rigs become animate, and mysterious designs appear on the bones of the dead—contains more imagination and thought in its twenty-eight stories than many authors’ entire catalogue.
HBO’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a trilogy of novels comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, premiered recently to much critical acclaim. No doubt, given their fantasy pedigree, the show will go on to become a beloved addition to an extraordinary track record for HBO. His Dark Materials, though, is no Game of Thrones retread. Pullman’s novels are contemporary fantasies enmeshed in parallel universes, scientific mysteries, philosophical and theological thought, and spirit animals called daemons. HBO’s take on the books, looks to be just as epic and imaginative.
But once the season ends, if you find yourself looking for books that take you on similar flights of creative and intellectual fancy, here’s a list of books like His Dark Materials that’ll make your imagination soar again.
Featured image: Kit Connor and Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials (2019)