The best sci-fi that explores the nature of reality

Why am I passionate about this?

I was a teacher and a professor who showed generations of students how to find x, how to prove figure 1 was similar to figure 2, how to make a machine search through millions of bits of data for an answer. An inspiration for a story struck me one day early in retirement as I was daydreaming. I began to write and have never stopped. It turns out that “if-then” is not so different from “what if.” The first is more like destiny, the second like free will. One is science, the other is fiction. “What if” has led me into strange lands.


I wrote...

Schroedinger's Cheshire Cats

By A. R. Davis,

Book cover of Schroedinger's Cheshire Cats

What is my book about?

Schroedinger’s Cheshire Cats is a journey through Thoughtland, where the Summoner is searching and testing the creations of other Gods for the formula of a soul to use for its own creation. Six characters are kidnaped from reality, their souls are placed like cats in a Schroedinger box filled with a maze of poisons. Their paths through the maze are studied closely by the Summoner. Like a symbol for science itself, the Summoner is the “physically” omniscient creator of Thoughtland, but its search for a formula is destined to fail. Humans can conceive of anything and can live with paradox, and like the Cheshire Cat, they can choose to disappear.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dhalgren

A. R. Davis Why did I love this book?

I’ll admit that the opening sex scene with the naked woman in the moonlight caught my attention fifty years ago, but I’ve visited the city of Bellona several times since then. It means something different to me each time. Now I notice its poetic and mythological symbolism as part of Delaney’s construction of the city and reconstruction of the main character’s lost memory. Bellona is a post-apocalyptic place, like a confused mind. The poetic drifter starts like a character scribbled in the margin of a writer’s notebook. I’m sure that if you dare enter Bellona with him, your experiences will be memorable.

By Samuel R. Delany,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Dhalgren as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nebula Award Finalist: Reality unravels in a Midwestern town in this sci-fi epic by the acclaimed author of Babel-17. Includes a foreword by William Gibson.

A young half–Native American known as the Kid has hitchhiked from Mexico to the midwestern city Bellona—only something is wrong there . . . In Bellona, the shattered city, a nameless cataclysm has left reality unhinged. Into this desperate metropolis steps the Kid, his fist wrapped in razor-sharp knives, to write, to love, to wound.
 
So begins Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany’s masterwork, which in 1975 opened a new door for what science fiction could mean.…


Book cover of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

A. R. Davis Why did I love this book?

Like many of you I have enjoyed the movie and tv versions of some of Dick’s stories such as Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle, and Total Recall. I have also read his thousand-page plus Exegesis, a rambling and chaotic attempt to make sense of his life. He was a deeply disturbed and troubled genius. This book is one of the best examples of that genius. The writing is clear, the ideas are deep. The religious symbolism and concepts are everywhere as Dick takes the reader from competing drug dealers through layer upon layer of hallucinations or alternate realities to direct interaction with God or a god or a devil or...?

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the overcrowded world and cramped space colonies of the late twenty-first century, tedium can be endured through the use of the drug Can-D, which enables the user to inhabit a shared illusory world.

But when industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from an interstellar trip, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z, which is far more potent than Can-D. But could the permanent state of drugged illusion it induces be part of something much more sinister?


Book cover of The Jacket (The Star-Rover)

A. R. Davis Why did I love this book?

Here is an alternate reality novel before the term even existed. It is a prison break tale, of a strange sort, and as you would expect of London it has lots of action. But it is philosophical as well. “The spirit is the reality that endures.” Scientific also, with explanations that were state of the art at the time. If you are into social justice, read his case against society and the brutality of the prisons of the day.

By Jack London,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Jacket (The Star-Rover) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Jacket (1915) is a novel by American writer Jack London. A groundbreaking work of science fiction that blends elements of mysticism, The Jacket critiques the harsh reality of the American criminal justice system. The novel was inspired by the experiences of Ed Morrell, a man who spent time at San Quentin State Prison for robbing trains. Horrified by his description of "the jacket," a constricting device used to punish inmates, London wrote the novel to explore the psychological effects of torture. Darrell Standing was a Professor of Agronomics at the University of California, Berkeley when, in a fit of…


Book cover of Roadside Picnic: Volume 16

A. R. Davis Why did I love this book?

What is it? A first contact story. Sort of. They were aliens? Yeah, Russians. What are they like? Don’t know. They’re gone now. Did you find anything good? Lots and lots. What’s that? The God hypothesis. It allows you to have an unparalleled understanding of absolutely everything while knowing absolutely nothing. Can you show me something else? No. You gotta go yourself. Can I really go into the Zone? If you’re old enough. And brave enough. Is it dangerous? People don’t come back. Is it legal? No, but you can sneak in.

By Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Olena Bormashenko (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a “full empty,” something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he…


Book cover of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

A. R. Davis Why did I love this book?

I loved this book because it has mathematics to the nth degree! Some of it in the form of inside jokes like “easy to use partial differential equations” that made me laugh out loud. Some of it, such as “equations that had sadness as a constant,” are in a “techno-poetic” style that I strive to achieve in my own writing. But this “meta-science fiction” novel is also filled with musings on writing and creativity. The self-referential recursion of a book within a book within a book makes the paradoxes of time travel even more interesting. The “reality portions” in which the main character pursues his quest to “find his father” are as deep and well done a theme as any I have read in sci-fi.

By Charles Yu,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brimming with alternative universes, futuristic landscapes and gleeful metaphysics... Yu's spirit of invention is infectious. - Sunday Times

Highly inventive and hilarious - The Times

_______________________________________________________________________________________

With only TAMMY - a slightly tearful computer with self-esteem issues - a software boss called Phil - Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0 - and an imaginary dog called Ed for company, fixing time machines is a lonely business and Charles Yu is stuck in a rut.

He's spent the better part of a decade navel-gazing, spying on 39 different versions of himself in alternate universes (and discovered that 35 of them are total jerks).…


You might also like...

The Sailor Without a Sweetheart

By Katherine Grant,

Book cover of The Sailor Without a Sweetheart

Katherine Grant Author Of The Viscount Without Virtue

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist History nerd Amateur dancer Reader New Yorker

Katherine's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Enjoy this Persuasion-inspired historical romance!

Six years ago, Amy decided *not* to elope with Captain Nate Preston. Now, he is back in the neighborhood, and he is shocked to discover that Amy is unmarried. Even more surprising, she is clearly battling some unnamed illness. Thrown together by circumstances outside their control, Nate and Amy try to be friends. Soon, it becomes clear that their feelings for each other never died. Has anything changed, or are they destined for heartbreak once more?

The Sailor Without a Sweetheart

By Katherine Grant,

What is this book about?

Is love worth giving a second chance?

Six years ago, Amy Lamplugh decided not to elope with Nate Preston. Ever since, she has been working hard to convince herself she was right to choose her family over Nate.

Now, Nate is back. After an illustrious career as a naval captain, he faces a court martial for disobeying orders while fighting the slave trade. He accepts an invitation to await the trial at a country estate outside of Portsmouth - and discovers he is suddenly neighbors with Amy.

Nate is shocked to find that Amy didn’t end up marrying someone rich…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in time travel, Mars, and spacetime?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about time travel, Mars, and spacetime.

Time Travel Explore 362 books about time travel
Mars Explore 71 books about Mars
Spacetime Explore 58 books about spacetime