The best multiverse books to blow your mind

Mark A. Rayner Author Of Alpha Max
By Mark A. Rayner

The Books I Picked & Why

Nine Princes in Amber: The Chronicles of Amber

By Roger Zelazny

Book cover of Nine Princes in Amber: The Chronicles of Amber

Why this book?

This is the first of a ten-book series called The Chronicles of Amber. (There are two five-book cycles.) I started reading these mind-bending novels when I was a wee lad, in the 1970s, and I didn’t really understand them but I loved the vivid worldbuilding. The characters were real, and the plots of these books were a page-turning pleasure. In this series, Amber is the prime world and all the other versions of reality were shadows of the original. In Plato’s philosophy, he has this theory of forms, and in this world-view, he sees our reality as an imitation of the “real” or ideal world. Interestingly, a lot of fantasy that deals with the multiverse seems to have this idea at its heart. In this particular expression, only the royal family of Amber can move between realities, by physically travelling through the shadow worlds, or by using magical portals they call “trump cards.” The first five books, about the crown prince of Amber, Corwin, are still quite readable and slightly psychedelic. 

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Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

Book cover of Dark Matter

Why this book?

I read this in one sitting during my summer vacation last year. Crouch writes for the screen as well as writing for print, and it shows. His pacing is amazing and this book is a real thrill-ride of a science fiction tale set in the multiverse. Unlike a lot of other science fiction, where the multiverse is just a background fact that informs the story, this novel really digs into the theoretical ideas behind it, and then uses that to ramp up the emotional stakes. No spoilers, but the protagonist is a physicist who is drugged, kidnapped, and left in a different iteration of his hometown of Chicago. A parallel world in which he never met his wife! One of the things that I really loved about the book is that the characters’ state of mind is so critical to how they are able to visit different realities – a version of an idea that I used in my own book

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The Man in the High Castle

By Philip K. Dick

Book cover of The Man in the High Castle

Why this book?

Now, you may be thinking – hey, that’s an alternate history SF. And you’re right, but in my view, alternate history is a subset of multiverse novels. Dick’s book relies on an interpretation of an idea in quantum physics which answers the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. (You know, the one where the cat is both alive and dead in the box, until you look at it – and then it’s one or the other?) The Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) suggests that if the cat is alive in your world, it’s dead in another. There are two worlds because of that choice. And Dick’s book suggests just that. It’s set in a reality where the Axis powers won WWII and split America between Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. The book is truly haunting and disturbing. I was about thirteen or fourteen when I read it and it blew my mind. 

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Corum - The Knight of Swords: The Eternal Champion

By Michael Moorcock

Book cover of Corum - The Knight of Swords: The Eternal Champion

Why this book?

I’ve always loved Moorcock’s work – I find his writing can be quite beautiful stylistically, even while he’s telling a compelling story. The Knight of Swords is the first in the Corum series, two trilogies, which is also part of the eternal champion multiverse. (It’s actually Moorcock who coined the term “multiverse” in a novel he wrote in the 60s.) I prefer Corum to his arguably more famous other protagonist, Elric of Meliboné. Corum is significantly less emo and whiny than Elric and I also really enjoyed the allusions to Irish mythology. But both of these characters are examples of what Moorcock calls the eternal champion – a hero that emerges whenever the universe experiences imbalance. This hero appears in many different realities, the multiverse, and is set the task of righting the balance between Law and Chaos. If you like high fantasy, and you haven’t read Moorcock, you really should. So much of what comes later starts with him. And this is truly a mind-boggling view of the multiverse!

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The Golden Compass

By Philip Pullman

Book cover of The Golden Compass

Why this book?

The first of Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, this book is an ambitious combination of time travel, Platonic fantasy, Schrödinger’s cat-fancying multiple worlds, and a tonic for the overly religious nature of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books (which I’m sure would be on many people’s lists instead of Moorcock or Zelazny). The Golden Compass isn’t always totally successful doing all of that, but the storytelling is great, and Lyra is a wonderful and compelling character. As a Canadian, I especially enjoyed the northern setting of the first book and the fact that the story has talking polar bears that run around in suits of armor. Brilliant!

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