The best fantasy fiction novels that make the reader think more deeply about real-life issues

Who am I?

A retired doctor and bookaholic since childhood, for me reading has always been more than just an escape into other lives. Rather, as with all art forms, I find it helps me better understand our topsy-turvy world. The Alice books were my introduction to the use of fantasy in storytelling that embraces a deeper meaning. Reading such imaginative fiction can be like stepping back from reality only to return with a better insight into what it means to be human in the real world. For me, as a doctor, this has always been so important. Each of the books I have recommended achieves this in the author’s own, unique way.


I wrote...

Eyes of Fire

By Oliver Eade,

Book cover of Eyes of Fire

What is my book about?

Adam cannot believe his luck when gorgeous Mexican classmate María dumps her boyfriend for him, nor understand why her grandfather said she must give him an ancient Mexican bracelet. Because of who the girl really is, the future of the world is in danger when the bracelet takes them on a terrifying journey through time, across North America. Adam’s sister, Chloe, has a telepathic gift proving vital in a struggle against the Death Lords of the Mayan underworld, Xibalba, and an ancient, evil Anasazi warrior, Coyote Spirit, all of whom want María for themselves. Later, with Adam and María married, their telepathic son, Pepe, knows, through Chloe, that they must return to Xibalba to learn the truth concerning his mother’s distress, plus rescue a special child.

The books I picked & why

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A Voyage to Arcturus

By David Lindsay,

Book cover of A Voyage to Arcturus

Why this book?

Following the adventures of Maskull (My skull?) on Planet Tormance, the reader is pitched into an allegorical journey in search of truth where nothing is quite what it seems. Disillusionment is a matter of course. Self-enlightenment and self-destruction merge, and the Devil even masquerades as God. Surely one of the greatest philosophical novels of the last century, it made me ponder about our place in the universe. The stark ending, focusing on the importance of ‘self’ in defining reality, is curiously disturbing.

A Voyage to Arcturus

By David Lindsay,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Voyage to Arcturus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning achievement in speculative fiction, A Voyage to Arcturus has inspired, enchanted, and unsettled readers for decades. It is simultaneously an epic quest across one of the most unusual and brilliantly depicted alien worlds ever conceived, a profoundly moving journey of discovery into the metaphysical heart of the universe, and a shockingly intimate excursion into what makes us human and unique. After a strange interstellar journey, Maskull, a man from Earth, awakens alone in a desert on the planet Tormance, seared by the suns of the binary star Arcturus. As he journeys northward, guided by a drumbeat, he encounters…

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why this book?

Pi, an Indian zookeeper’s son, is marooned in a lifeboat with an orang-utan, a crippled zebra, a hyena, and a tiger. The tiger eats the hyena who polished off the zebra and orang-utan, and the relationship between Pi and the tiger, representing two sides of the protagonist, becomes a tale of endurance and survival shared by man and beast, turning mystical when they disembark on a floating carnivorous island. The prosaic beginning and ending, after the tiger vanishes into the Mexican jungle, link the reader with the real world, and enhance what is a deeply spiritual story. 

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Life of Pi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi Patel, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with the tiger, Richard Parker, for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his…

City of the Beasts

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of City of the Beasts

Why this book?

In a tale involving entrepreneurial ruffians who exploit native Amazonian tribes, and corrupt officials, Alex and Nadia discover the ‘People of the Mist’ and the mystical sloth-like beasts of the title who are trying to protect their forest. The first, and for me the best book of this supremely gifted writer’s explorative trilogy, it deals, compellingly, with the self-seeking greed behind White Man’s destruction of the lungs of our planet, the Amazon. If we lose the Amazon Rainforest, we lose our planet. As simple as that. Mr. Bolsonaro, please read this book!

City of the Beasts

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An ecological romance with a pulsing heart, equal parts Rider Haggard and Chico Buarque - one of the world's greatest and most beloved storytellers broadens her style and reach with a Amazonian adventure story that will appeal to all ages.

Fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold has the chance to take the trip of a lifetime.

With his mother in hospital, too ill to look after him, Alex is sent out to his grandmother Kate - a fearless reporter with blue eyes 'as sharp as daggers' points'. Kate is about to embark on an expedition to the dangerous, remote world of the Amazon…


The Silver Locusts

By Ray Bradbury,

Book cover of The Silver Locusts

Why this book?

The Silver Locusts (my preferred title) is a collection of linked short stories about Earthman’s destruction of a fragilely beautiful and ancient Martian civilisation. With profoundly poetic writing, there are real gems such as Night Meeting in which an Earthman and Martian meet up on a highway, neither seeing, nor believing in, the other’s world. The book is not pure fantasy, for it also reflects White Man’s destruction of the Native American civilisation, one that was in harmony with the natural world and which inspired my Eyes of Fire.

The Silver Locusts

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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Arcadia

By Iain Pears,

Book cover of Arcadia

Why this book?

The stories of ageing, academic ex-spy, Lytton, merge with those of his young neighbour, Rosie, who, when searching for his cat in a basement enters another dimension where she embarks on a life-changing journey with young Jay, whilst in a dystopian future, scientist Angela Meerson, because of her latest invention, goes on the run from the corruptly controlling authorities. The reader just has to hang on there as past, present and future collide in a symphony of imaginative writing that challenges our concept of reality. And it all comes together in a brilliant conclusion.

Arcadia

By Iain Pears,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers.

April, 1960: In the cellar of a professor's house in Oxford, fifteen-year-old Rosie goes in search of a missing cat -- and instead finds herself in a different world.

Anterwold is a sun-drenched land of storytellers and prophecies. But is this world real -- and what happens if Rosie decides to stay?

Meanwhile, a rebellious scientist is trying to prove that time does not even exist -- with potentially devastating consequences.

As the three worlds come together, one question arises: who controls the future -- or the past...?

5 book lists we think you will like!

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