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The Best Fantastical Fiction

M. Castle
The list author says: "The term "fantastical fiction" refers to any work that is set in a reality distinct from our own. This includes science-fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and various books that most simply call "literature." I'm an avid reader of all styles, but I've always found fantastical works to be the most engaging. This a compilation of my favorite books in the genre (well, 40 of them, at least--Amazon sets the limit there). Feel free to drop me a line with feedback or thoughts: amazonlist.50.castlemj@spamgourmet.com"
The Gormenghast Novels (Titus Groan / Gormenghast / Titus Alone)
The Gormenghast Novels (Titus Groan / Gormenghast / Titus Alone)
"A collection of 3 severely underappreciated novels that revolve around an ancient castle and the Dickensian characters that inhabit it.  The language is majestically intricate.  Be warned: these are long books with a slowly paced plot that will swallow up weeks of your life."
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings
"Borges is perhaps the most important influence on contemporary fantastical fiction.  This is more or less his "greatest hits."  So to speak.  Many of the works in this list draw heavily from these stories, which are astounding in their creativity and ingenuity."
Mockingbird (Del Rey Impact)
Mockingbird (Del Rey Impact)
"I'll skip over _1984_ and _Brave New World_; these 2 books are the seminal works in dystopian fiction, but I'm sure you've heard of them already and most likely read them.  Tevis' dystopian work, _Mockingbird_, lacks the biting satire of these two but makes up for it with vivid imagery of a crumbling society and a fast-moving plot.  A great, quick read."
Stand on Zanzibar
Stand on Zanzibar
"Speaking of quick reads, this book is the exact opposite.  A huge and formally complex novel that builds a much more believable satire. The plot is not as dramatic as the aforementioned dystopian books, but the real interest here is in the world Brunner creates and the manner in which he represents it to us."
Pavane (Del Rey Impact)
Pavane (Del Rey Impact)
"A collection of short stories tied together by a common world: an alternate history in which the Catholic church holds all power and represses technology, but magical and religious forces flourish.  Not nearly as absurd as it sounds. "The Signaller" is my favorite: I have no doubt that I'll still remember it and think about it 20 years from now."
Nova
Nova
"Vintage has been reissuing much of Samuel Delany's best writing.  This novel is a good intro to Delany: fast moving with a lot of "hard" sci-fi elements, but also packed full of allegory, symbolism, and beautiful writing."
Dhalgren
Dhalgren
"Delany's masterpiece.  An enormous book about a city gone mad.  A tough, long read, but immensely rewarding."
Aye, and Gomorrah: And Other Stories
Aye, and Gomorrah: And Other Stories
"A collection of Delany's short stories.  Several gems in here, including "The Star Pit" (his first published work), "Aye, and Gomorrah," "Time as a Helix of Semiprecious Stones", and many others. Other Delany to check out: _Triton_, _Babel 17/Outlaw Star_, and _Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand_."
The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale
"Another oft-read dystopian work.  This one is heavy on the satire, but like _1984_ isn't bogged down by it."
Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake
"A unique take on the postapocalyptic novel. Read it alongside _The Road_ for two very different modern approaches (both great). Not-to-be missed if you're in modern science (especially genetics)--Atwood's take on the apocalypse is quite novel and interesting."
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
"Genre-defining and absolutely enthralling. The quintessential work of magical realism, and a novel that everyone should read (especially hispanic readers--it's also available on Amazon in its original Spanish text)."
Veniss Underground
Veniss Underground
"Vandermeer is one of the best activewriters in fantastical fiction.  This reads like the Orpheus myth turned into an action movie and set in the future.  Full of wonderfully vivid imagery and swirling with myth."
City of Saints and Madmen
City of Saints and Madmen
"More Vandermeer. This is likely his most highly-regarded book."
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
"Murakami has been gaining popularity lately with his unique novels that encompass all the magic and banality of modern Japan. This is his best work: it'll hypnotize you, and the 700 pages will feel like 200.  An easy read but also immensely satisfying."
Dance Dance Dance
Dance Dance Dance
"Murakami has written a lot of books. This is my second favorite. Has the same mystical enchantment and a more satisfying conclusion than Wind-Up Bird, but lacks the depth and wide cast."
Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand
Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand
"A science fiction classic (not enough of those in here yet).  A collection of short stories, each set progressively further in the future.  This novel bursts with creativity."
Light
Light
"A crazy science fiction novel that revolves around the concepts of quantum physics. M. John Harrison is spectacular, and this novel is him in top form."
Nova Swing
Nova Swing
"The sequel to _Light_. Surprisingly, it manages to be even better...Harrison is really emerging as a fantastic writer. This tale is reminiscent of Tarkovsky's Stalker in its depiction of the "Event Site" (ie, the zone), but has Harrison's unique take and style."
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
"Another sci-fi classic.  Dick used to be underappreciated, but he seems to be gaining a wider audience lately, even to the point that some of his unpublished fiction is being released (unpublished because it wasn't science fiction)."
The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle
"It's hard to decide which of Dick's many, many works is his best, but if pressed this is the one I might choose."
The Crying of Lot 49 (Perennial Fiction Library)
The Crying of Lot 49 (Perennial Fiction Library)
"Most associate Pynchon with dense tomes like _Gravity's Rainbow_, but _Lot 49_ is short, easy to read, and frequently hilarious. A great way to test the waters."
Otherwise: Three Novels
Otherwise: Three Novels
"Crowley writes slow, thoughtful fiction.  _Engine Summer_ is the real highlight here--a layered novel brimming with nostalgia, as deeply emotion-provoking as it is thought-provoking."
Pale Fire
Pale Fire
"When I first started reading I expected this to be a long, challenging read, but it came together/caught its stride quickly and proved immensely entertaining. Nabokov handles the dual narrators/dual formats wonderfully. Full with ideas and meaning and humor."
Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
"Only Nabokov could make an alternate universe seem more real than our own. Stick with it through the obtuse opening--this one's stunning. _Transparent Things_, also by Nabokov, is recommended as a chaser."
We
We
"Yet another dystopian satire, but this one is lent extra force by the fact that the author actually lived in the repressive society of 1920s Russia. Although the brevity and journal format left the plot feeling somewhat jumpy and incomplete, I was repeatedly struck by the conjunction of beautiful language/imagery and the fullness of the society Zamyatin creates."
Invisible Cities
Invisible Cities
"Marco Polo describes to Genghis Khan the cities to which he has traveled in a series of beautiful little vignettes."
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
"More classic Calvino."
Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)
Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)
"A short and thrilling read that serves as a great introduction to Vonnegut, but don't stop here."
The Road
The Road
"Like all of McCarthy's novels, _The Road_ is relentless and dark. McCarthy's vision of a shattered world is written in beautiful, lucid prose and is immensely convincing in its tale of finding hope in hopelessness."
Black Hole
Black Hole
"One of the best graphic novels I've read."
The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard
The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard
"A new release, and it's an amazing one! More than 1,000 (very large) pages of stories by a master of short fiction. That's 7-8 books for the price of one. Ballard is one of my favorite short story writers (_Memories of the Space Age_ used to be on the list). He's one of the great pioneers of modern sci-fi and speculative fiction, and these stories are not to be missed."
Lanark (Canongate Classics Series (Separate Title Per Volume))
Lanark (Canongate Classics Series (Separate Title Per Volume))
"A seminal Scottish novel. Gray's vivid depiction of everyday Scotland in the mid-20th century in contrast with his wildly imaginative and otherworldly "hell" reminds me of Murakami. Only the most talented of writers could pull off something so ambitious."
Dangerous Visions
Dangerous Visions
"The classic collection of "dangerous" (i.e. bold and literary) sci-fi finally back in print! At a fairly exorbitant price, unfortunately--but much cheaper if you've got a Kindle."
Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go
"The less you know about this novel going in, the better. Ishiguro is a master at stringing the reader along and slowly assembling his world. Read it before watching the movie! Better yet, read it before watching a trailer for the movie..."
Neuromancer
Neuromancer
"The quintessential cyberpunk novel, but also a book that is read far too rarely by people that aren't sci-fi aficionados (likely because of its strong association with that divisive subgenre). Gibson's prose is electric and the story engrossing, though, and this is a work that deserves to be read by everyone."
Burning Chrome
Burning Chrome
"Short stories by Gibson. Nearly every one is a classic. These may be his best works."
Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (Public Works Trilogy)
Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (Public Works Trilogy)
"A rollicking and very funny satire set in near-future New York City. Full of memorable characters and hard to put down."
Lord of Light
Lord of Light
"I've always thought Zelazny's prose is vastly underrated. He wrote a lot, but this is one of his best--a Hugo-winning novel about a group of people that recreate themselves as the Hindu pantheon. Guaranteed to be utterly unlike anything you've read before"
Creatures of Light and Darkness
Creatures of Light and Darkness
"A nice companion to _Lord of Light_. Another (much shorter) meditation on the concepts of religion and divinity."
A Clockwork Orange (Restored Text)
A Clockwork Orange (Restored Text)
"A classic that's been regrettably overshadowed by Kubrick's (admittedly also very good) film. Definitely worth a read even if you've seen the movie."