So far, we’ve confined our explorations into the wide world of books suitable for atheist people to non-fiction. Fiction is a whole other realm, which we shall dip our tippy-toes into. This is a broad selection of reader recommendations and a few of my own discoveries.
(All descriptions are taken from the book summaries by the publishers.)
Table of Contents
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein
If you ask, she must answer. A steerswoman’s knowledge is shared with any who request it; no steerswoman may refuse a question, and no steerswoman may answer with anything but the truth.
And if she asks, you must answer. It is the other side of tradition’s contract — and if you refuse the question, or lie, no steerswoman will ever again answer even your most casual question.
And so, the steerswomen — always seeking, always investigating — have gathered more and more knowledge about the world they traveled, and they share that knowledge freely.
Until the day that the steerswoman Rowan begins asking innocent questions about one small, lovely, inexplicable object…
Her discoveries grow stranger and deeper, and more dangerous, until suddenly she finds she must flee or fight for her life. Or worse — lie.
Because one kind of knowledge has always been denied the the steerswomen:
The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards) by Scott Lynch
An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what giants or wicked witches are to European culture: the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. Valente’s take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.
Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever peasant girl to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, that will bring Russian myth to life in a stunning new incarnation.
The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth) by N. K. Jemisin
This is the way the world ends. For the last time.
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Surface Detail (Culture) by Iain M. Banks
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.
It begins with a murder.And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.
Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.
Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful thought it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war – brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it’s about to erupt into reality.
It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Bored with their work, three Milanese editors cook up “the Plan,” a hoax that connects the medieval Knights Templar with other occult groups from ancient to modern times. This produces a map indicating the geographical point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled—a point located in Paris, France, at Foucault’s Pendulum. But in a fateful turn the joke becomes all too real, and when occult groups, including Satanists, get wind of the Plan, they go so far as to kill one of the editors in their quest to gain control of the earth.
Orchestrating these and other diverse characters into his multilayered semiotic adventure, Eco has created a superb cerebral entertainment.
Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Q. Yarbro
The classic tale that introduced the legendary Le Comte de Saint-Germain, first published in 1978 and spawning 14 titles in the Saint-Germain epic, is now available in paperback. A fixture in 1740s Parisian society, Saint-Germain is a perfect gentleman–and a vampire. When the fiery young Madeline falls in love with him, a group of evil sorcerers targets her for their black mass–and only Saint-Germain can save her soul.
Rivers of London – Body Work #1 by Ben Aaronovitch
Peter Grant is one of only two members of a very special branch of London’s Metropolitan Police. He is, in fact, pretty much a wizard and it’s his job to investigate those shadowy crimes that involve urban vampires, weird folk in the underground and, in this case, why cars are suddenly taking on lives of their own and killing innocent folk!
Theatre of the Gods by M. Suddain
This is the story of M. Francisco Fabrigas, explorer, philosopher, heretical physicist, who took a shipful of children on a frightening voyage to the next dimension, assisted by a teenaged Captain, a brave deaf boy, a cunning blind girl, and a sultry botanist, all the while pursued by the Pope of the universe and a well-dressed mesmerist.
Dark plots, demonic cults, murderous jungles, quantum mayhem, the birth of creation, the death of time, and a creature called the Sweety: all this and more waits beyond the veil of reality.
Thor Meets Captain America by David Brin
Nominated for a Hugo Award in 1987, Thor Meets Captain America offers an alternate history exploring a chilling scenario behind the Holocaust. In this parallel world, the Nazis narrowly avoid defeat in World War II when they are championed by the gods of the Norse Pantheon. At a dramatic turn, Loki joins the Allies and they prepare a last-ditch raid to blow up Valhalla. With an afterword by the author.
River of Time by David Brin
The River of Time brings together twelve of David Brin’s finest stories, including “The Crystal Spheres”, which won the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story in 1985. Here are powerful tales of heroism and humanity, playful excursions into realms of fancy, and profound meditations on time, memory, and our place in the universe. Who guides our fate? And can we ever hope to wrest control for ourselves? “The Crystal Spheres” offers a fantastic explanation for the Great Silence. Instead of being latecomers, might humanity have come upon the scene too early? “The Loom of Thessaly” merges classical mythology with impudent modern spirit in a science-fiction classic that speculates on the nature of reality. “Thor Meets Captain America” offers an alternate history exploring a chilling scenario behind the Holocaust. In this parallel world, the Nazis narrowly avoid defeat in World War II when they are championed by the gods of the Norse Pantheon. Sample these and other speculations into the future of humanity in The River of Time.
Monstress #1 by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Astonishing X-Men and Black Widow writer MARJORIE LIU returns to comics with artist SANA TAKEDA (X-23) for an all-new ONGOING SERIES! Steampunk meets Kaiju in this original fantasy epic for mature readers, as young Maika risks everything to control her psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, placing her in the center of a devastating war between human and otherworldly forces. The adventure begins in a spectacular TRIPLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE, with SIXTY-SIX pages of story and no ads.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Fat Charlie Nancy’s normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn’t know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother.
Now brother Spider’s on his doorstep—about to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting . . . and a lot more dangerous.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Venus of Dreams by Pamela Sargent
Iris Angharads, a determined, independent woman, sets herself one massive goal: to make the poison-filled atmosphere of Venus hospitable to humans. She works day and night to realize her dream, with only one person sharing her passion, Liang Chen. It seems impossible to make Venus, with its intolerable air and waterless environment, into a paradise, but Iris succeeds. And in doing so, she also creates a powerful dynasty, beginning with her first born, Benzi Liangharad.
The Ennead by Jan Mark
Isaac is an outsider on the planet Erato – the lone survivor of a disaster elsewhere in the Ennead (a system of nine planets). But he has managed to infiltrate an important family and wields a significant amount of power. Even so, his position is often compromised because he depends on the kindness of others. So when the chance to rescue Eleanor, a girl from another planet, arises – and most importantly, to keep her forever in his debt, he seizes it. But Eleanor brings her own agenda – her own history – which threatens Isaac’s position and the very fabric of Erato’s society.
Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear
Greg Bear’s The Forge of God described the destruction of Earth itself by self-replicating robots, Von Neumann machines designed to use the planet’s mass to create more robotic creatures and spread throughout the Galaxy. In Anvil of Stars, only a few humans have survived, aided by a mysterious alien race known only as “The Benefactors”, who arrived at Earth too late.
Now the small group of human survivors is determined to track down the criminal race who launched the planet killers. Humanity is given a starship by The Benefactors, and driven only by revenge they set out to find the unknown beings who are responsible for the destruction of Earth, and many other worlds.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes is James S. A. Corey’s first novel in the epic, New York Times bestselling series the Expanse, a modern masterwork of science fiction where humanity has colonized the solar system.
Two hundred years after migrating into space, mankind is in turmoil. When a reluctant ship’s captain and washed-up detective find themselves involved in the case of a missing girl, what they discover brings our solar system to the brink of civil war, and exposes the greatest conspiracy in human history.
Alien Influences by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
On the sun-scorched planet Bountiful, human colonists live peacefully alongside natives known as Dancers until an unspeakable disaster devastates the colony. Six children found dead, their bodies marked in a bizarre parody of a Dancer ritual. The crime’s solution makes the situation worse, sending ripples throughout the sector, shattering lives. One man tries to heal those lives. But can he heal everyone involved, and still save himself? A finalist for the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award, Alien Influences shows the talents that make Kristine Kathryn Rusch one of the most popular authors working in science fiction today.
Boy in Darkness and Other Stories by Mervyn Peake
In cooperation with the Mervyn Peake Estate, this is a selection of long out-of-print short stories and more than 50 never before published illustrations by one of England’s most unique and multi-talented artists. The title story will be of special interest to fans of the Gormenghast books, as it comprises a chapter in the life of Titus Groan that unfolds beyond the pages of Peake’s monumental trilogy. A disturbingly atmospheric tale, told with the force and simplicity of allegory, “Boy in Darkness” distills the strange logic of the Gormenghast trilogy into a story of pith and mystery, which bears comparison with Kafka and Poe. Written across a range of genres, from a ghost story to wry character studies drawn from his life in London and on the Isle of Sark, the other tales in the volume reveal surprisingly different facets of Peake’s uncanny imagination. Ultimately, the collection coheres through Peake’s powers to enchant the mundane and to render the fantastic normal.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne–or his life.
Engineer of Human Souls by Josef Skvorecky
The Engineer of Human Souls is a labyrinthine comic novel that investigates the journey and plight of novelist Danny Smiricky, a Czech immigrant to Canada. As the novel begins, he is a professor of American literature at a college in Toronto. Out of touch with his young students, and hounded by the Czech secret police, Danny is let loose to roam between past and present, adopting whatever identity that he chooses or has been imposed upon him by History.
Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex — or design. He fears no one — until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss…and savage anyone who threatens those she loves. She fears no one — until she meets Doro. From African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu weave together a pattern of destiny that not even immortals can imagine.
Tales from Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. Le Guin
The tales of this book explore and extend the world established by the Earthsea novels–yet each stands on its own. It contains the novella “The Finder,” and the short stories “The Bones of the Earth,” “Darkrose and Diamond,” “On the High Marsh,” and “Dragonfly.” Concluding with with an account of Earthsea’s history, people, languages, literature, and magic, this collection also features two new maps of Earthsea.
The City & The City by China Miéville
When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.
Earthly Delights: Corinna Chapman by Kerry Greenwood
Corinna Chapman was once a high profile accountant and banker. That is until she walked out on the money market and her dismissive and unpleasant husband James, threw aside her briefcase, and doffed her kitten heels forever. Now she is a baker working in her own business, Earthly Delights, in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia. Corinna is living in an eccentric building on the Roman model called Insula, which has eight stories, sixteen apartments, and a lot of strange and interesting people. These include a retired professor of classics, Dionysius Monk; a Dutch gardener named Trudi; Mr. and Mrs. Pemberthy and their rotten little doggie, Traddles; a pair of disgustingly thin, would-be soapie stars Goss and Kylie; and a jobbing witch, Meroe of The Sibyls Cave. Corinna is quite content with her cat Horatio and her shop until a junkie falls half dead on her grate, a gorgeous sabra stalks along her alley and tells her that she is beautiful, and she starts receiving threatening letters accusing her of being a scarlet woman. Then it is Goths, lost girls, fraud, late nights, nerds, and beautiful slaves. Life for Corinna has suddenly become interesting. And she still needs to get her bread out in time for the morning rush…. Includes recipes. Earthly Delights is the first book in this delicious new series by the award-winning author who brought us the Phryne Fisher series.
In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past. Full of brilliant deduction, disguises, and danger, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first book of the Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is “remarkably beguiling” (The Boston Globe).
White Nights, Black Paradise by Sikivu Hutchinson
In 1978, Peoples Temple, a multiracial church once at the forefront of progressive San Francisco politics, self-destructed in a Guyana jungle settlement named after its leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. Fatally bonded by fear of racist annihilation, the community s greatest symbol of crisis was the White Night; a rehearsal of revolutionary mass suicide that eventually led to the deaths of over 900 church members of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. White Nights, Black Paradise focuses on three fictional black women characters who were part of the Peoples Temple movement but took radically different paths to Jonestown: Hy, a drifter and a spiritual seeker, her sister Taryn, an atheist with an inside line on the church s money trail and Ida Lassiter, an activist whose watchdog journalism exposes the rot of corruption, sexual abuse, racism and violence in the church, fueling its exodus to Guyana. White Nights, Black Paradise is a riveting story of complicity and resistance; loyalty and betrayal; black struggle and black sacrifice. It locates Peoples Temple and Jonestown in the shadow of the civil rights movement, Black Power, Second Wave feminism and the Great Migration. Recapturing black women’s voices, White Nights, Black Paradise explores their elusive quest for social justice, home and utopia. In so doing, the novel provides a complex window onto the epic flameout of a movement that was not only an indictment of religious faith but of American democracy.
. . . in which Sydney Padua transforms one of the most compelling scientific collaborations into a hilarious series of adventures.
Meet Victorian London’s most dynamic duo: Charles Babbage, the unrealized inventor of the computer, and his accomplice, Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the peculiar protoprogrammer and daughter of Lord Byron. When Lovelace translated a description of Babbage’s plans for an enormous mechanical calculating machine in 1842, she added annotations three times longer than the original work. Her footnotes contained the first appearance of the general computing theory, a hundred years before an actual computer was built. Sadly, Lovelace died of cancer a decade after publishing the paper, and Babbage never built any of his machines.
But do not despair! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage presents a rollicking alternate reality in which Lovelace and Babbage do build the Difference Engine and then use it to build runaway economic models, battle the scourge of spelling errors, explore the wilder realms of mathematics, and, of course, fight crime—for the sake of both London and science. Complete with extensive footnotes that rival those penned by Lovelace herself, historical curiosities, and never-before-seen diagrams of Babbage’s mechanical, steam-powered computer, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is wonderfully whimsical, utterly unusual, and, above all, entirely irresistible.
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
The God of Small Things: A Novel by Arundhati Roy
Compared favorably to the works of Faulkner and Dickens, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel is a modern classic that has been read and loved worldwide. Equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama, it is the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevokably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie. It is an event that will lead to an illicit liaison and tragedies accidental and intentional, exposing “big things [that] lurk unsaid” in a country drifting dangerously toward unrest. Lush, lyrical, and unnerving, The God of Small Things is an award-winning landmark that started for its author an esteemed career of fiction and political commentary that continues unabated.
Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Stuart Gilbert
In this gripping novel, Saint-Exupéry tells about the brave men who piloted night mail planes from Patagonia, Chile, and Paraguay to Argentina in the early days of commercial aviation. Preface by André Gide. Translated by Stuart Gilbert.