The best speculative fiction books to explain the meaning of life, the universe and everything

Who am I?

I grew up believing that all men are brothers and that in our hearts we all hold the same values. It’s not true. It presumes that western cultural values are the best mankind can aspire to. In fact, it’s an act of aggression to project my values onto others. I love to explore other cultures by living amongst them or reading a good book about them. As a religious, trained anthropologist, I try to discern their big questions about life, the universe, and everything. Do they have any bearing on my questions?  After all, the quest is for better questions, rather than comfortable answers (like ‘42’ - see Hitchhiker’s Guide…).

I wrote...

Quantum Cannibals

By Nathan Elberg,

Book cover of Quantum Cannibals

What is my book about?

Reincarnation and time travel are the scaffold of a five-thousand-year saga of exile, love, and loss. In an Arctic wasteland, a quantum biologist is transformed into a vengeful warrior when her husband is butchered and served at a feast. In Bronze-Age Mesopotamia she is a teacher and community leader trying to cope with the violent animosity between tribes. In a modern city, before she is born her father is expected to stop an invasion by demons holding a five-thousand-year-old grudge.

Greed and bigotry challenge grace, generosity, and empathy. It’s a struggle fought with humor, magic, lasers, stone knives, and nuclear weapons. It’s a struggle worth immersing yourself in.

The books I picked & why

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The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Five Novels in One Outrageous Volume

By Douglas Adams,

Book cover of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Five Novels in One Outrageous Volume

Why this book?

There are several “big questions” that have long been contemplated by prophets, philosophers, and me. “Does life have meaning? What’s my place in the universe? How can God do all those things people say He’s done?” Even though Douglas Adams was a dedicated atheist, his trilogy provides answers to these and more while keeping his readers laughing. The atheist helped me understand God.

Traitor: Star Wars Legends

By Matthew Woodring Stover,

Book cover of Traitor: Star Wars Legends

Why this book?

The Star Wars universe started as one movie, then three, then six. It then experienced its own “big bang,” exploding with books, movies, television shows…  My favorite is one small part of that universe, which hardly anyone pays attention to. Traitor is Book 13 of the New Jedi Order series. I expected normal good guy/bad guy, dark side/light side dichotomies, but my expectations were overturned. Jacen, previously a good guy Jedi, comes under the tutelage of Vergere, a mysterious creature of indeterminate allegiance. I couldn’t tell whether she was Jacen’s teacher, protector, torturer, or captor. I was fascinated that all these concepts were meaningless here. There are many great stories in Star Wars and the New Jedi Order. This one outshines them all in what it teaches me about good and evil.

Faith of the Fallen: A Sword of Truth Novel

By Terry Goodkind,

Book cover of Faith of the Fallen: A Sword of Truth Novel

Why this book?

I like books that entertain, but also inspire me on how to better live my life. Faith of the Fallen (Book 6 of the Sword of Truth series) is a riveting story right from the first sentence. It’s full of homilies that sync with my worldview on how to live with yourself, and how to live with others. “Your life is your own. Rise up and live it,” argues against passivity. “Pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent” is a call for justice. The author echoes the philosopher Hannah Arendt in saying, “Evil is not one large entity, but a collection of countless, small depravities brought up from the muck by petty men.”

Above all, Faith of the Fallen is a gripping, action-filled story.

Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos

By Knud Rasmussen,

Book cover of Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos

Why this book?

The word ‘fantasy' comes from the Greek ϕαντασία, meaning ‘making visible.’ There are many peoples who are invisible to western civilization. I was trained as an anthropologist; seeing the mysteries of different cultures holds a special attraction for me. The book Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos is anthropology, not fiction, which makes visible a way of life unimaginable to modern man. The people it describes are real, which makes their stories all the more compelling. In one instance, Rasmussen (who was half-Eskimo) grilled a shaman named Aua about the meaning of all their beliefs and rituals. The shaman turned the questions back on Rasmussen and said, “All our customs come from life and turn towards life; we explain nothing, we believe nothing, but in what I have just shown you lies our answer to all you ask.” Aua didn’t answer all that I ask about life; he helped me understand my questions.

Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley,

Book cover of Brave New World

Why this book?

I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s (though some people say I never grew up). Drugs and sex were seen as panaceas to most of what ails the world. “Make love, not war,” would bring an era of peace and prosperity, a messianic wonderland. Uh-uh. Brave New World raised a red flag: is such a utopia possible? In our present reality “free love” has diminished the idea of obligation. Recreational drugs have led to terrible addictions. In the novel unlimited sex and always-available drugs made for a dystopian world. Freedom unfettered by responsibility became an oppressive weapon. There are unforeseen consequences to the actions of people, of a society. “The nightmare of total organization has emerged from the safe, remote future and is now awaiting us, just around the next corner.”

5 book lists we think you will like!

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