The best books about dark altered realities, horror circuses, and other creepy places

Andy Kaiser Author Of In Tents
By Andy Kaiser

The Books I Picked & Why

The Dreaming Jewels

By Theodore Sturgeon

Book cover of The Dreaming Jewels

Why this book?

This book was my first introduction to proper fantasy escapism. I read it when I was too young to appreciate it all, but I caught the main thrust: Supernatural happenings in a scary circus. A classic dark fantasy from 1950, it was way ahead of its time. As I grew older I continued to re-read the book. I was able to see outside of the escapism of the young-adult adventure (which was still great), but I was also able to enjoy the more adult themes and darker story implications.


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The Circus of Dr. Lao

By Charles G. Finney

Book cover of The Circus of Dr. Lao

Why this book?

The earliest publication date of this collection goes all the way back to 1935. A strange circus comes to town, with the performers consisting of creatures who talk less about circusy things than they do about philosophy and some strangely specific moralizing. Those thought-provoking aspects are what stick in my mind now. What first drew me to the story was the mystery of the circus itself, and the wonderfully creative creatures inside of it. 


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Something Wicked This Way Comes

By Ray Bradbury

Book cover of Something Wicked This Way Comes

Why this book?

Some books I read and still have crystal-clear memories of the imagery, even decades after my last read. That’s a testament to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I can still easily remember the story's climax and the “visuals” at the end. This is a story about life and death, what it means to grow older, and what a certain circus can teach us about that.


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Strange World

By Frank Edwards

Book cover of Strange World

Why this book?

Strange World is a collection of short stories (and many are very short). They expand on the title, the stories being recollections, reports, and (I’m fairly sure) completely made-up weirdness from around the country and world. Everything from strange coincidences to the absurdly fantastic, are all presented as matter-of-fact. This is perfectly in line with the publication date of 1964. Then, America was fully invested in the UFO craze, tinged with metaphysics and the occult. The stores are a time capsule of this cultural view and – whether or not you believe the stories are true – are a fun read.


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Relic

By Douglas Preston

Book cover of Relic

Why this book?

This mystery takes place mostly in the New York Museum of Natural History. I loved that the museum itself was so well-defined and so detailed, to me, it became another character in this dark thriller.

Be warned: Enjoying this book may get you hooked on the entire Pendergast Series, starring what I’d describe as a present-day supernatural Sherlock Holmes. This book started it all, and while the majority of the series’ books are excellent, this one is the best, and my personal favorite.


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