Why do we read? Well, there’s a lot of reasons. To gain empathy, to learn, to see things from a different point of view, to know we’re not alone, to gain a better understanding of the world around us. One of the most important aspects of literature, however, is that it often provides an escape from the world around us. When life seems dull and dreary, or downright depressing, books can take us into an entirely different world, where we can forget about our own lives for a bit. And in terms of escapism, there’s no better genre than science fiction and fantasy, which take us to a world of magic, of witches and wizards, of foreign planets and aliens. So, in the spirit of escaping from our present scenario, here are 10 great science fiction and fantasy novels to carry you far away.
Book: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Description: I always want to recommend this book to people going to college soon, or people just entering high school; the story begins with its protagonist moving to a new place, and the first scene is very relatable. The book is a strange story of a secret world underneath London, consisting of all sorts of magical people. What I love most about this book is the protagonist, who is, fundamentally, a decent person. Throughout the book he does several compassionate things that end up getting him into trouble: but at the end of the day, you can’t help but rooting for him.
If you like this… There’s a great short sequel to this called How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, which is extremely enjoyable. Gaiman’s other fantasy stories, American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Stardust are also very enjoyable. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an extremely quick read.
Book: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Description: If you liked Macbeth, you might like this story; a parody of Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy, Wyrd Sisters deals with a coven of witches trying to deal with an usurper who’s causing chaos across the country. There’s some great comedy, some extremely likable and funny characters, and an interesting story. The book begins with lines: “When shall we three meet again?” “I can do next Tuesday.”
If you like this… Read all Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Guards! Guards!, Mort, Reaper Man, and Small Gods are all great.
Book: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Description: Once described by Stephen King as the Jupiter in his solar system of books, The Gunslinger series is a Tolkien-esque story set in a Wild West world, where a society of gunslingers keep order. The first book begins with Roland, the last of the gunslingers, pursuing a man in black across a desert. It’s one of the most unique fantasy worlds I’ve ever read, made even more unique by the fact the world interacts with our world (people occasionally cross over between the dimensions). It’s a strange book, but a good one.
If you like this… Read the rest of the Dark Tower series, which follows the adventures of Roland and his question to restore balance to his world.
Book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Description: The ultimate sci-fi comedy, Hitchhiker’s begins with the destruction of the entire Earth by an alien race in order to make room for an intergalactic highway. Thankful, our protagonist, Arthur Dent, is teleported off the Earth moments before destruction, and goes on a tour of the universe, using the galaxy’s most popular tourist guidebook. The book is hysterically funny, with some of the most unique characters in all of fiction.
If you like this… While the first book is the most famous, Hitchhiker’s is actually an entire series, meaning you can read more of the books if you so choose.
Book: The Martian by Andy Weir
Description: You may have seen the hit movie starring Matt Damon that came out a couple of years ago, but did you know that this was a book first? Most great movies are. The story of an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars, The Martian tells the story of a man and his quest for survival. While science fiction, The Martian is based in a lot of real-world science, creating a grounded, realistic story that grabs your attention. It also deals with socially isolated, trapped in a base with nothing to do… which some of you may be able to relate to.
If you like this… There’s another book by the same author called Artemis about a moonbase crime (I’ve never read it, but I heard good things). There’s also this fascinating short story by him called The Egg, and it’s really interesting.
Book: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Description: Look, if you haven’t read any Tolkien yet, and you like fantasy stories, you are way behind on the curve. The Hobbit is a great place to start if you’re not quite ready to jump into Lord of the Rings. The story of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who goes on a quest to get some gold from a dragon, this story wrote the blueprint for all fantasy novels that came after it. A great story, some comedy, and some of the most famous characters of all time (Gandalf the Grey, the prototype wizard for all of fiction).
If you like this… Read Lord of the Rings, what some people think is the greatest fantasy epic of all time.
Book: Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.
Description: Did you finish the show and still longing for more time with Tyrion, Jon, and Daenerys? Maybe you just hated the way things ended? Or maybe you’ve never seen the show but heard good things? Game of Thrones is the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice, the series on which the television show is based. The adventures of various characters in and around the land of Westeros, and the political turmoil that surrounds their lives. Filled with treachery, deception, shocking deaths, and a healthy dose of magic and dragons, Game of Thrones is a wonderful world to get lost in while you’re stuck at home.
If you like this… Read the rest of the series; A Clash of Kings is the next book.
Book: The Odyssey by Homer
Description: Perhaps the most famous fantasy story of all time, The Odyssey details the journey of Odysseus, on his way home from the Trojan War. He gets lost, however, and encounters one-eyed giants, witches, and sea monsters. If you liked Greek mythology when you were younger, this is a really great point to get into it again.
If you like this… The Iliad is Homer’s other famous work, but feel free to just find some more collections of mythology. While Greek mythology is the most famous, Norse, Egyptian, and other cultures all have their fair share of stories of gods and men.
Book: The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Description: Disney actually made a movie based on this book. The story of the childhood of King Arthur, The Sword and the Stone describes the future king’s education, as he is trained by the wizard Merlin, and goes on various misadventures. The story of King Arthur is one of the most retold legends in all of fantasy, and this story is a great introduction to the mythology that surrounds the character.
If you like this… This is actually the first book in the series The Once and Future King, detailing the life and times of King Arthur. If you want more of a challenge, read Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory, the classical version of the legends of King Arthur.
Book: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
Description: While often considered a book for children, The Golden Compass still holds up with an intriguing world filled with magic dust, daemons, talking polar bears, and witches. One of the most frequently banned books, due to criticism of religion, The Golden Compass provides a fascinating world, unlike any other seen in fantasy. A short, easy read.
If you like this… This is the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy; read the next two if you enjoyed this story.