The best books about a world under secret control

Jesse Karp Author Of Those That Wake
By Jesse Karp

Who am I?

I grew up in the 1970s, still in contention for America’s most paranoid decade (thanks, Watergate). Practically everything I watched, listened to or read (right down to my beloved superhero comics) was asking, what’s hiding behind the world around you? I don’t think of myself as a paranoid guy – I don’t, for instance, believe in a real life Deep State – but these are the sorts of stories that resonate for me. Taken less literally, they do ask worthwhile and still disturbingly relevant questions: what is beneath the world you know and see every day? What is right in front of you, both good and bad, that you aren’t seeing?


I wrote...

Those That Wake

By Jesse Karp,

Book cover of Those That Wake

What is my book about?

Mal sneaks back into his foster home after a bare-knuckle brawl to find that his brother has disappeared, leaving behind only a mysterious call for help. Laura calls her parents after a disastrous day only to find that they have no idea who she is. Someone or something has plucked these two out of memory, out of their own lives. With Mike, a high school teacher eaten by rage, and Remak, an investigator who knows more than he’s sharing, Mal and Laura must fight their despair and plunge deeper into the darkness, to grapple with the secret machinery of the world, and the force that pulls its levers.

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The books I picked & why

House of Stairs

By William Sleator,

Book cover of House of Stairs

Why did I love this book?

When they take off his blindfold, Peter is on the landing of a stairway. The stairway goes to another landing with more stairways coming off it, and on and on into infinity. What is this place? And what, God help him, is its purpose? When I first read the great William Sleator’s intense study of group dynamics under stress in a sinister, constructed world, it changed my brain and made me look at the world we live in differently for the rest of my life. The secret behind the place invites disturbing questions: how do we rely on other people and what do they want from us? How can our behavior be manipulated and controlled by forces we can’t see or know? 

By William Sleator,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked House of Stairs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This chilling, suspenseful indictment of mind control is a classic of science fiction and will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.

One by one, five sixteen-year-old orphans are brought to a strange building. It is not a prison, not a hospital; it has no walls, no ceiling, no floor. Nothing but endless flights of stairs leading nowhere--except back to a strange red machine. The five must learn to love the machine and let it rule their lives. But will they let it kill their souls?  

"An intensely suspenseful page-turner." --School Library Journal

"A riveting suspense novel with…


Brothers

By William Goldman,

Book cover of Brothers

Why did I love this book?

Agent Scylla was dead, but they brought him back because someone is holding a contest, a contest to see who can create the deadliest weapon. As Scylla navigates a world he’s been out of touch with for too long, he finds that there’s something on its outskirts, pulling all the wrong strings. A thrilling espionage adventure drenched in paranoia, this was the most fun I ever had being terrified to learn the truth. The only book I ever read that I literally could not put down. Its momentum – the need to find out what the contest was about and where the search would lead Scylla – was so powerful, I could not stop my fingers from turning the pages.  

By William Goldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Time Out of Joint

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Time Out of Joint

Why did I love this book?

Suburbanite Ragle Gumm is overcome with a sense of urgency to play a bizarre newspaper game every day. He’s so good at it, he makes a living from its cash prizes. But lately, his world seems to be fraying around him. Things he sees and knows are suddenly...not. And if you can’t trust the very ground you’re standing on, what’s left? This takes the whole “maybe my world isn’t what I think it is” idea about as far as it can go, and it was just about the first story to ever do that. The best, most satisfying book I ever read about a banal, mundane world that turns out to be anything but.

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Time Out of Joint as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ragle Gumm is an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, except that he makes his living by entering a newspaper contest every day - and winning, every day.

But he gradually begins to suspect that his life - indeed his whole world - is an illusion, constructed around him for the express purpose of keeping him docile and happy. But if that is the case, what is his real world like, and what is he actually doing every day when he thinks he is guessing 'Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?'


House

By Josh Simmons,

Book cover of House

Why did I love this book?

It’s about the simplest idea you can hang a story on: three people discover a house in the wilderness and explore it. But this short, black and white, silent graphic novel just sucked me deeper and deeper into the terror of a place that seems to grow impossibly larger, even as your pathway through it becomes narrower and narrower until...well, it’s pretty dark stuff. Simmons’s art is also inky black, but visualizes the concepts at play with beautiful power. There is a terrible force behind the scenes here, but you can never know what it is and you can never defeat it.  

By Josh Simmons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This adventurous, silent graphic novel demonstrates the solid strength of this young cartoonist's storytelling ability. Whether plunging into the watery depths of a sinkhole that has obviously swallowed part of a town or entering the uncertain hidden corridors of the house, every turn is captured with intensity by Simmons' scratchy pen. Page composition and panel arrangements are masterfully coordinated to reflect the characters' increasingly claustrophobic panic as the story reaches its crescendo, and to cause a similar and palpable reaction in the reader. House is Josh Simmons' first full-length graphic novel after years of honing his craft on the humorous,…


The End of the World

By James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds (artist),

Book cover of The End of the World

Why did I love this book?

It’s the post-modern apotheosis of all conspiracy theories: convince enough people something is true, it becomes true. Doesn’t matter how far-fetched – the Earth is flat, the world is overcome with Bigfoots, shape-changing lizardmen are secretly controlling everything – convince enough people, and it happens.  Except, who’s trying to convince people? And who’s trying to stop them? And are either of them on our side? It’s really a bottomless hole in the most enjoyable way (if paranoid fables are your thing): no matter how bad you realize it is, it’s actually worse. But wait, it’s even worse than that. And even worse than that. This is an ongoing comic series (even the art makes reality seem haunted and insubstantial), so while there are already several collected editions, there’s no end in sight.

By James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds (artist),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The End of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best of 2021 Lists:
New York Public Library
Entertainment Weekly
Indigo
And more...

"A wonderfully dizzy mixture of Men in Black, John Carpenter, Stephen King, The Matrix, and 1970s conspiracy thrillers."- Forbes

"A story for our zeitgeist. SIMMONDS' art invokes Bill Sienkiewicz."- Entertainment Weekly

"It is FANTASTIC. Can't wait to read the whole series!"- Patton Oswalt

COLE TURNER has studied conspiracy theories all his life, but he isn't prepared for what happens when he discovers that all of them are true, from the JFK Assassination to Flat Earth Theory and Reptilian Shapeshifters. One organization has been covering them up for…


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