The best books about heresy and heretics

2 authors have picked their favorite books about heresy and heretics and why they recommend each book.

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Towing Jehovah

By James K. Morrow,

Book cover of Towing Jehovah

I confess I'm more attracted to Morrow's themes than his actual writing, but still. Towing Jehovah is premised on God having died and his corpse needs to be towed to the Arctic for preservation. It's part of a trilogy (the second and third books are titled Blameless in Abaddon and The Eternal Footman); to be honest, I don't remember reading the other two, but I must have...  Also worth mentioning is Morrow's Bible Stories for AdultsAll irreverent. All funny in a dark way.

Towing Jehovah

By James K. Morrow,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On his 50th birthday, Anthony Van Horne meets the despondent angel Raphael, who tells him that God is dead, his body in the sea; and that Van Horne must captain the supertanker that will now tow the two-mile-long divine corpse northwards through the Atlantic. By the author of "City of Truth".


Who am I?

I was raised to be a Roman Catholic. I was not raised to think very deeply, but I did anyway. Eventually.  When I was around fifteen, I started asking questions that irritated my parents. They referred me to our priest. Who basically patted me on the head and showed me the door. When the Pope said 'no contraception,' the shit really hit the fan. I haven't looked back. And I'm quite vocal about it because, damn it, religious beliefs and religions do damage, not the least of which involves hurting and killing people. (As for being funny, that's just icing on the cake.)


I wrote...

The Blasphemy Tour

By Jass Richards,

Book cover of The Blasphemy Tour

What is my book about?

Two Canadian atheists go on a cross-country speaking tour of American Bible Colleges. No, seriously. The Blasphemy Tour — where philosophy essay meets stand-up comedy.

(In The Road Trip Dialogues, the prequel, Rev and Dylan are charged with blasphemy for adding “‘Blessed are they that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stone.’ Psalms 137:9” to a Right-to-Life billboard just outside Algonquin Park. As a result of a well-publicized court trial, the American Atheist Consortium makes an offer...)

Song of Kali

By Dan Simmons,

Book cover of Song of Kali

A World Fantasy Award winner and the first novel by this genre-crossing author who is probably most famous for his sci-fi epic, Hyperion, Song of Kali is a dark fantasy/horror novel about a cult that worships the Hindu goddess/demon, Kali, who is known as a goddess of death, among other things. Kali doesn’t really make much of an entrance, but Simmons weaves an intriguing tale tinged with the supernatural, centered around a mystical poet who may or may not be dead. Simmons loves integrating poetry and poets into his stories, and the suspense around this particular poet and his connection to the cult of Kali is palpable. It’s not mythology per se, but boy is it dark. It’s also pretty short, and easily could be consumed in a single reading.

Song of Kali

By Dan Simmons,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Calcutta, a monstrous city of immense slums, disease and misery, is clasped in the foetid embrace of an ancient cult. At its decaying core is the Goddess Kali: the dark mother of pain, four-armed and eternal, her song the sound of death and destruction. Robert Luczak has been hired by a New York magazine to find a noted Indian poet who has reappeared, under strange circumstances, years after he was thought dead. But nothing is simple in Calcutta, and before long Luczak's routine assignment turns into a nightmare ... it is rumoured that the poet has been brought back to…


Who am I?

Mike Vasich has a lifelong obsession with stories about gods, superheroes, and giant monsters, and he has been inflicting them on 7th and 8th graders for the better part of 20 years. He wrote his first book, Loki, so he could cram them all into one book and make them beat up on each other. He enjoys (fictional) mayhem, sowing disrespect for revered institutions, and taking naps. 

I wrote...

Loki

By Mike Vasich,

Book cover of Loki

What is my book about?

God of Mischief. Father of Lies. Harbinger of Destruction. Exiled and tortured by the gods, Loki swears vengeance. He will summon the mighty Fenris Wolf and the legendary Midgard Serpent, and they will lead an army of giants and all the dead in Niflheim. Brimming with the power of the most destructive being in the Nine Worlds, he will not rest till Asgard is in ashes and all the gods are dead under his heel.

Veil of the Dragon

By Tom Barczak,

Book cover of Veil of the Dragon

Barczak’s work belongs to that realm of poetic fiction that is occupied by Robert E. Howard and Janet Morris. Veil of the Dragon plays out like a vivid nightmare. This is the kind of fantasy novel that makes you want to pause in the middle of the paragraph you’re reading, go back to the beginning, and read out loud just to see how the words sound. Poetic fantasy takes you to another level.

Veil of the Dragon

By Tom Barczak,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Chaelus, Roan Lord of the House of Malius is raised from the dead by the hand of a child. His kingdom stolen by the evil dragon, Gorond, Chaelus’ only hope to reclaim his throne rests with the child knight who saved him, the heretical order to which the child belongs, and the truth about Chaelus which they alone protect.


Who am I?

I’ve been working professionally as a writer for twenty-five years. I’m nothing close to a household name, but a number of my articles have gone viral throughout the years. I’ve had educators reach out to mention they’ve taught my work at both the high school and college levels. Writing is an occupation of passion, and the authors I’ve mentioned are all talented and passionate about their craft. It’s rare to find people who speak the truth anywhere in our society. These writers don’t just speak the truth, they make it sing.


I wrote...

The Reader of Acheron

By Walter Rhein,

Book cover of The Reader of Acheron

What is my book about?

The Reader of Acheron is a thoughtful dystopian/fantasy about a world where reading is prohibited. The book wrestles with the concept of willful ignorance, and the way an established power system can spread misinformation in the interest of servitude. The book has many parallels in our current political environment.

To Reign in Hell

By Steven Brust,

Book cover of To Reign in Hell

The title is taken from the John Milton poem, Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n,” and tells the story of the War in Heaven before the Creation from the point of view of the bad guys. So basically, we get the Devils’ (not a typo, by the way) point of view, and, like in Milton (arguably), they are the heroes of the story. Instead of the classic two-dimensional villains who exist solely to oppose the hero, Brust flushes them out so well that you can’t help but root for them. Nor can you understand why anybody would like this God dude or his weird ‘son’, Jesus. The devils in question are Satan and Lucifer, curiously split into two characters for this story, which provides further opportunities for plot and character development.

To Reign in Hell

By Steven Brust,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Reign in Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels (Dragon) and his swashbuckling tales of Khaavren (THE PHOENIX GUARDS and FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER) have earned him an enthusiastic audience worldwide. But TO REIGN IN HELL, his famous novel that does for the epic of Satan's rebellion what Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light did for Hindu myth, has been out of print for years - causing used copies to trade for improbable sums. Now, at last, TO REIGN IN HELL returns to print in a paperback edition, with an introduction by Roger Zelazny.


Who am I?

Mike Vasich has a lifelong obsession with stories about gods, superheroes, and giant monsters, and he has been inflicting them on 7th and 8th graders for the better part of 20 years. He wrote his first book, Loki, so he could cram them all into one book and make them beat up on each other. He enjoys (fictional) mayhem, sowing disrespect for revered institutions, and taking naps. 

I wrote...

Loki

By Mike Vasich,

Book cover of Loki

What is my book about?

God of Mischief. Father of Lies. Harbinger of Destruction. Exiled and tortured by the gods, Loki swears vengeance. He will summon the mighty Fenris Wolf and the legendary Midgard Serpent, and they will lead an army of giants and all the dead in Niflheim. Brimming with the power of the most destructive being in the Nine Worlds, he will not rest till Asgard is in ashes and all the gods are dead under his heel.

Book cover of The Path of Flames (Chronicles of the Black Gate)

Tucker not only creates a world you’ll get completely lost in, but his prose is next level. Countless times while reading I stopped to bask in awe of the way he weaved words together into a tapestry that not only told a beautiful story full of pain, hope, love, and triumph but also brought out emotions in a very real way. I felt what his characters felt, I yearned for what his characters yearned for, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire way. Get this book if you want to lose sleep every single night!

The Path of Flames (Chronicles of the Black Gate)

By Phil Tucker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Path of Flames (Chronicles of the Black Gate) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in the new epic fantasy series readers are comparing to David Gemmell and Raymond E. Feist. A war fueled by the dark powers of forbidden sorcery is about to engulf the Ascendant Empire. Agerastian heretics, armed with black fire and fueled by bitter hatred, seek to sever the ancient portals that unite the empire - and in so doing destroy it. Asho--a squire with a reviled past--sees his liege, the Lady Kyferin, and her meager forces banished to an infamous ruin. Beset by tragedy and betrayal, demons and an approaching army, the fate of the Kyferins hangs…


Who am I?

Growing up and still today, I read a lot of fantasy, including reading the covers right off my copy of The Lord of the Rings boxed set. I’ve also written two major epic fantasy series each more than a million words in length. So I know a thing or two about what makes compelling epic fantasy stories. And these five books (and the series that follow) go above and beyond any measure. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, but your REM cycle might suffer!


I wrote...

Kingfall

By David Estes,

Book cover of Kingfall

What is my book about?

Be bright but do not burn. Embrace the darkness but do not live in the shadows. 

The powerful godblades were believed to be lost nearly half a millennia ago, when the Godswar ended. Now, however, one has been found by the unlikeliest of wielders: Sampson Gaard, a sheltered prince who's been told he'll never rule Teravainen. As his power grows, the only question is whether he controls the blade or the blade him. With an insidious evil lurking in the shadows, the answer may very well determine the fate of all Kingfall.

A New Science of Life

By Rupert Sheldrake,

Book cover of A New Science of Life

When I was an undergraduate, the editor of Nature called this book "the best candidate for burning there has been for many years". I therefore rushed out to buy a copy to see why, and I have treasured the book and recommended it ever since. Almost every idea between its covers is wrong, but marshalling evidence to refute the ideas makes readers ask the most fundamental questions about biology and why they believe what they do. I am eternally grateful to Sheldrake for making me justify my opinions properly, with evidence, not just because they were what I read or heard in some classroom. And he will do the same for anyone else: heretics like Sheldrake are really important for testing mainstream science.

A New Science of Life

By Rupert Sheldrake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A New Science of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**The fully revised edition of Rupert Sheldrake's controversial science classic, from the author of the bestselling Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2021!**


After chemists crystallised a new chemical for the first time, it became easier and easier to crystallise in laboratories all over the world. After rats at Harvard first escaped from a new kind of water maze, successive generations learned quicker and quicker. Then rats in Melbourne, Australia learned yet faster. Rats with no trained ancestors shared in this improvement.

Rupert Sheldrake sees these processes as examples of morphic resonance.…


Who am I?

I have long been fascinated by how very complicated things can arise from comparatively simple ones, because it seems counterintuitive that this is even possible. This led me to lead a life in science, researching how a whole human body can come from a simple egg, and trying to apply what we learn to make new body parts for those who need them. Though much of my professional reading consists of detailed research papers, I have always relied on books to make me think and to show me the big picture. I write books myself, to share with others some of the amazing things that science lets us discover. 


I wrote...

Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself

By Jamie A. Davies,

Book cover of Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself

What is my book about?

Where did I come from? Why do I have two arms but just one head? How is my left leg the same size as my right one? Why are the fingerprints of identical twins not identical? How did my brain learn to learn? Why must I die? Questions like these remain biology's deepest and most ancient challenges. A convergence of ideas from embryology, genetics, physics, networks, and control theory has begun to provide real answers.

Life Unfolding tells the story of human development from egg to adult showing how our whole understanding of how we come to be has been transformed in recent years. Highlighting how embryological knowledge is being used to understand why bodies age and fail, Jamie A. Davies explores the profound and fascinating impacts of our newfound knowledge.

Book cover of Children of the Furnace

The first in a trilogy, it takes a little while to adjust your reading ‘ear’ to the strange new language used, but then you’re rewarded by another great speculative cli-fi novel, with complex, layered characters, lots of tension, and a plot that will challenge you to think harder about how climate change may affect the future. 

Children of the Furnace

By Brin Murray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Truth died in the fires. Only through courage can it be born again. Under the iron rule of the Revelayshun, one boy discovers the truth… ‘Ty promised my ma he’d bring me up right. Bring him up to hear the rhythm beat, she said, and to feel the heartsblood warm. Not Strong – not in their way – but strong in the ways of the heart.’ When the Revelayshun murders his pa, Wil discovers through savage inquisition that he’s marked as a Heater, one of the old-time heretics who burned up the world. But Wil holds the key to a…


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights, and my own writing explores such issues, including who holds the power and who exerts the control. By writing about real-world issues in a speculative future, it allows us to peel back the layers of conditioning and look at ourselves and our actions through the eyes of an outsider – which forces us to examine our best and worst human traits. I love the way speculative fiction can do this, and I love that it challenges us to do better.  


I wrote...

The Nature of Ash

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Nature of Ash

What is my book about?

Ash McCarthy thought he finally had it made: revelling in the freedom of student hostel life. But life is about to take a devastating turn when two police officers knock on his door. Their life-changing news forces him to return home and impels him into a shady world of political intrigue, corruption, terrorism, and lies...so many lies.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the whole country is imploding. While trying to protect his brother, along with strangers Travis and Jiao, his fight to uncover the truth turns into a nightmare race to save their lives. The Nature of Ash is a fast-paced thriller that explores love and loss, assumptions and prejudices, truth and fiction, and the many faces of ‘family’.

Eisenhorn

By Dan Abnett,

Book cover of Eisenhorn: The Omnibus

A different kind of hero. Cerebral and self-contained. Eisenhorn is an Inquisitor who maneuvers within the system and operates within his own complex reality, fighting a never-ending war against all aspects of Chaos. He finds allies in impossible places and uses them to his advantage. Part mystery, part adventure, and expertly crafted to portray the darkest of futures, it is the quintessential dystopian science fantasy. While some may question the rigid morality of the future day, Eisenhorn chooses results over dogma, choosing the lesser of two evils. I learned that characters must choose their own reality, adapting to the dystopia in which they reside. It’s a compelling human trait that transcends any universe.  

Eisenhorn

By Dan Abnett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn is an Imperial inquisitor, one of the tirelss defenders of humanity. With his warband he scourges the galaxy, walking in the shadows of darkness in order to root out heresy. When that heresy is found to infiltrate the hierarchy of the Imperium and the Inquisition itself, Eisnehorn must rely on himself alone to deal with it – even if it means making deals with the enemy and compromising everything he ahs ever believed in.

Read it because
It's the whole classic trilogy that remains top of many Warhammer 40,000 fans' must-read lists, And in Pariah, there's a…


Who am I?

I love dystopian science fantasy for the fact that it defines its own reality. The distant, magical aspects of every dystopian world create separation from the world we live in. The reader must cling to the characters, accept their motives and flaws, and finish the ride no matter where it goes. Not every plot needs to reform the status quo. Star Wars was the white-washed exception, and even that got dark at times. Combining flawed characters with flawed settings makes a novel compelling without the need for overly fantastic powers or world-altering events. Sure, I include those too, but futuristic dystopia offers plenty of challenges for simply surviving each day.


I wrote...

Psyker

By Rory Surtain,

Book cover of Psyker

What is my book about?

Fast-moving, edgy, and dark but not graphic or gratuitous, Psyker challenges readers to experience a far different reality from their own.

In the dark, distant future, densely populated hive cities rely on ancient technologies and rigid laws in order to endure. Paric Kilhaven, a scion of a noble House, navigates the sinister, alluring world of his city’s underhive, hoping to escape the fate of an outlawed psyker. Rival gangs and chaotic forces align against him in a fight for the planet’s survival.

Baltasar and Blimunda

By José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (translator),

Book cover of Baltasar and Blimunda

I admit, Baltasar and Blimunda is not the type of historical fiction I generally pick up (a more distanced narrative voice plus magical realism doesn’t tend to be my normal pick for pleasure reading) but I felt I needed to read at least one novel set in 18th century Portugal before trying to write my own set there. Something by a Portuguese author as well seemed entirely the way to go. So, I picked this up, and am really glad I did. 

Baltasar and Blimunda

By José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In eighteenth-century Portugal, fifty thousand laborers carry stones on their backs across mountains to build the king's convent, a heretical priest devises a magic flying machine--the Passarola--and two lovers' dream of flight sets them apart.


Who am I?

I’ve been a history nerd all my life. Historical fiction chap books were my entrance to reading, and my copy of Little Women fell apart from excessive re-reads. (It also taught me the word “abridged.” I was very upset to find out I hadn’t been given the full book!) I love how novels can pull you into a time on such a personal level. That immersion is part of what made me so interested in books set in lesser-known eras. I mean, I love a good Tudor court drama or WWII novel as much as the next reader. There is just something extra special about learning about a brand-new time. 


I wrote...

The Stars of Heaven

By Jessica Dall,

Book cover of The Stars of Heaven

What is my book about?

When one of the largest earthquakes in history hits Lisbon on All Saints’ Day 1755, Cecília de Santa Rita e Durante’s life is turned upside down. With her family possibly dead, she must wade through the ruins that were once her home with the help of John Bates. The English Protestant represents everything she was taught to hate, but he is her only hope of making it through the newly destroyed Lisbon. Faced with both unspeakable tragedy and an unexpected miracle at home, Cecília is cast into a web of deception, religious upheaval, and political intrigue that leaves her on even shakier ground.

Grendel

By John Gardner,

Book cover of Grendel

“And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war.” Gardner packs a lot into this slim beautiful volume about a monster’s quest for the point of it all. Grendel’s consciousness starts evolving the moment he realizes that he is a thing apart from the rollicking Danes and the Geatish hero, Beowulf. But what? He tries to discover a purpose to his otherness. (“My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it,” is the rather unhelpful advice of the all-knowing dragon.) Poignant, funny, brutal, and poetic, this was my first introduction to stories told by a monster and remains the gold standard.

Grendel

By John Gardner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This classic and much lauded retelling of Beowulf follows the monster Grendel as he learns about humans and fights the war at the center of the Anglo Saxon classic epic.

"An extraordinary achievement."—New York Times

The first and most terrifying monster in English literature, from the great early epic Beowulf, tells his own side of the story in this frequently banned book. This is the novel William Gass called "one of the finest of our contemporary fictions."


Who am I?

My mother was a student who divorced when I was very small. Lacking resources, we moved frequently, rarely staying anywhere for more than a few months. It has left me with an abiding sympathy for stories of outsiders trying to figure out what exactly they did to be relegated to the other side of the glass, peering in. This is why when I decided to write about werewolves, I made them wolves first and humans only very secondarily. Because my sympathy is always with the monsters.


I wrote...

The Last Wolf

By Maria Vale,

Book cover of The Last Wolf

What is my book about?

Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of the Great North Pack's social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn't all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves. 

A double Rita finalist and a Library Journal and Amazon Best Book of 2018, The Last Wolf is the first volume in The Legend of All Wolves paranormal romance series. Vulnerable and strong, courageous and afraid, the wolves of the Great North will fight to the end for their pack, their land, their loves and their sacred wild.

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