The best books where reality dissolves into strangeness and wonder

Why am I passionate about this?

I was ten. Every Sunday morning, I sat in front of the TV with a notepad to take notes while watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. As a teen, I devoured every of Kafka’s books. The wonder of science and the strangeness of our existence have co-habited within me since then. Today, I’m a professional physicist and theoretical chemist. But I’m also a fiction writer. My fiction allows me to spill my science background into topics that wouldn’t be welcome in technical writing. For instance, wondering how life could re-emerge in the far future after all stars burned.

I wrote...

One Billion Faces: Short Stories

By Mario Barbatti,

Book cover of One Billion Faces: Short Stories

What is my book about?

One Billion Faces entangles magic realism and hard science fiction. In a collection of seven short and ten flash stories, I invite you to contemplate the extremes of the human condition. Either delving into the psychology of some of the founding myths of the western culture or speculating about our place in the universe on unthinkable time scales, we dive into a profound imagination journey.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Mario Barbatti Why did I love this book?

A family founds Macondo, a city initially isolated from the outside world. Six generations of their descendants succeed in their misfortunes, slowly reintegrating into a country of rigged politics and civil war until a gigantic windstorm wipes the city from the map. Generation after generation, the people of Macondo share the same names. Their identities melt in our minds while the story evolves on multiple layers. The intermix of reality and myth, the unsettling narrative, and the dissolution of the self are all elements of dreams. I doubt any storyteller could ever send their readers into a lucid dream as García Márquez did in this book.

By Gabriel García Márquez, Gregory Rabassa (translator),

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.

Book cover of The Trial

Mario Barbatti Why did I love this book?

Joseph K. is prosecuted by an impenetrable and faceless justice system. He doesn’t even know the accusation hanging over him. If he does nothing, he can go on with his life. If he wants to prove himself innocent, K. must enter a labyrinthic bureaucracy, which will consume him. He opts for the latter. 

I’ve been reading and rereading The Trial since I was a teen. Each time, Kafka’s dense prose drags me into his universe’s strangeness. With K., I wonder about the meaning of the parabole Before the Law; with him, I walk through the intricate corridors of the Justice and feel its nauseating air.

By Franz Kafka,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested." From its gripping first sentence onward, this novel exemplifies the term ""Kafkaesque." Its darkly humorous narrative recounts a bank clerk's entrapment — based on an undisclosed charge — in a maze of nonsensical rules and bureaucratic roadblocks.
Written in 1914 and published posthumously in 1925, Kafka's engrossing parable about the human condition plunges an isolated individual into an impersonal, illogical system. Josef K.'s ordeals raise provocative, ever-relevant issues related to the role of government and the nature of…

Book cover of Stories of Your Life and Others

Mario Barbatti Why did I love this book?

Ted Chiang is one of the most creative authors of my generation. Each of the stories in this collection builds exquisite worlds. Take, for instance, Story of Your Life (the book is named after this novel, which was later adapted into the movie Arrival). It features a linguist who, to decipher an alien language, must learn to shift her time perspective from the usual past-to-future flow into one where all events are simultaneous. Chiang skillfully builds his narrative to allow us to savor this perplexing atemporal frame. And he still manages to deliver a delicate picture of a mother who can’t do anything to change tragic events in her daughter's life. I defy you not to finish this book and immediately jump to Chiang’s second story collection, Exhalation.

By Ted Chiang,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Stories of Your Life and Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A science fiction genius . . . Ted Chiang is a superstar.' - Guardian

With Stories of Your Life and Others, his masterful first collection, multiple-award-winning author Ted Chiang deftly blends human emotion and scientific rationalism in eight remarkably diverse stories, all told in his trademark precise and evocative prose.

From a soaring Babylonian tower that connects a flat Earth with the firmament above, to a world where angelic visitations are a wondrous and terrifying part of everyday life; from a neural modification that eliminates the appeal of physical beauty, to an alien language that challenges our very perception of…

Book cover of The Nine Billion Names of God

Mario Barbatti Why did I love this book?

Hard science fiction, firmly based on scientific concepts, is a constant source of wonder. This classic collection—one of my first contacts with the genre maybe thirty-five years ago—is still one of my favorites! 

Since Clarke wrote these stories in the 1950s and 60s, science, technology, and the world have changed dramatically. But his writing aged well. The moral despair of the protagonist of The Star when he uncovers the relationship between a supernova's remains and humanity's history is timeless. The warning, “There is always a last time for everything,” at the closing of the tale The Nine Billion Names of God, still rings prophetic.

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nine Billion Names of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The invention of computers was a godsend to the obscure monks deep in the Himalayas. Their centuries-long project to write out all of God's names could be sped up by thousands of years. And only they had any clue what would come next!

Book cover of Axiomatic: Short Stories of Science Fiction

Mario Barbatti Why did I love this book?

Your older self writes a diary and sends it back in time to you. It reveals that between two pathways, you will take a right. You arrive at that crossroads, and no matter how willing you are to defy your unveiled fate, you can’t avoid choosing right again. I often find this type of super-deterministic scenario in science fiction, invariably raising philosophical questions about free will. Nevertheless, Egan is the only author to offer a satisfactory psychological solution to why the protagonist can’t change their fate. And this is just the first of the short stories in this collection. Axiomatic is hard SciFi stretching scientific concepts into their ethical and human limits.

By Greg Egan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Wonderful, mind-expanding stuff, and well written too."-The Guardian

Axiomatic is a wonderful collection of eighteen short stories by Hugo Award-winning author Greg Egan. The stories in this collection have appeared in such science fiction magazines as Interzone and Asimov's between 1989 and 1992.

From junkies who drink at the time-stream to love affairs in time-reversed galaxies; from gene-altered dolphins that converse only in limericks to the program that allows you to design your own child; from the brain implants called axiomatics to the strange attractors that spin off new religions; from bioengineering to the new physics; and from cyberpunk to…

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The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

Book cover of The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

Bill Hiatt Author Of Different Lee

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Insatiable reader English teacher Life-long learner Hiker Webmaster

Bill's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Guaritori awakens from a coma to find that he's lost twenty years--and his entire world.

Fiancée, family, and friends are all missing, perhaps dead. Technology has failed, and magic has risen, leaving society in ruins. Most survivors are at the mercy of anyone who has strong enough magic. Guaritori has none. He finds a protector, but his troubles are far from over.

The new society in which he finds himself is superficially friendly but surrounded by enemies and full of secrets. Guaritori doesn't know it yet, but the biggest secret is his. If his protector knew who he truly was,…

The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

What is this book about?

Coming out of a coma after twenty years, Guaritori--Garth to his friends--discovers that the world he knew no longer exists.

Advanced technology has failed. Magic, which he didn't know even existed, has become much more powerful. Supernatural groups battle for supremacy, forcing human beings to seek shelter wherever they can find it.
Garth's only hope for survival lies with a varied group including a shape-shifter, an alchemist, a tarot card reader, a blacksmith with a flaming sword, and others. But a prophecy foretells that he will bring about the downfall of their leader, the mysterious Ms. M.

Even worse, Garth…

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