From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Reading Beyond Angels and Demons

In Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, the hero Robert Langdon uncovers a vast and secret conspiracy involving the Catholic Church and the Illuminati. It’s hardly a new theme – so here’s some additional titles for speculative fiction readers who want a dash more conspiracy in their reading.

The Eight by Katherine Neville. Computer expert Catherine Velis uncovers a secret involving an ancient chess set that once belonged to Charlemagne while her counterpart in 1790 does the same. Readers who like Angels and Demons will find this thriller, which flashes back and forth between the two eras, very much in the same vein as Angels and Demons, full of international travel, ancient texts, and (of course) those who will stop at nothing to keep their secret safe.

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. About as densely textured and thick as a book can get, this book is the one that The DaVinci Conspiracy was only a pale shadow of. However, readers who put the book down for too long may find themselves having difficulty recovering their bearings, and the literary quality may be off-putting for those who prefer their adventure a little more Mack Bolan-ish. Also usable as a door-stop.

The Family Trade by Charles Stross. The first of Stross’s Merchant Princes series, this book involves parallel dimensions, ancient secrets, and a hearty dose of economic theory as its protagonist, Miriam Beckstein, investigates a money-laundering scheme and discovers much, much more. Worthwhile and engaging.

The Books of Amber by Roger Zelazny, also features parallel dimensions and an ancient family at odds with each other as well as conspiracies, plots and counterplots that span worlds and centuries. Guaranteed to make you regard Tarot cards in a totally different light.

 The World of Tiers by Phillip Jose Farmer. Complex and brilliantly constructed, this is one of Farmer’s best series. The World of Tiers does not take place on Earth, but rather in a bizarre counterworld, with a hero, Roger Wolff, struggling to discover exactly what he’s doing there while battling the various creatures and other humans intent on preventing this discovery.

Memoirs Found In A Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem. If you don’t mind never actually discovering what the conspiracy is, but simply seeing its manifestations, this funny, surreal, and disturbing book may be the right one for you. It posits a world filled only with conspirators and spies trying to find meaning, with layers upon layers of double and triple agents. If you would like to know what coded messages Shakespeare was sending, this may be the book for you.

Anything by Phillip K. Dick, but particularly Ubik. Dick’s writing is full of paranoia, conspiracies, and alternate realities. People unfamiliar with Dick’s work may want to pick up Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the book upon which the movie Blade Runner is based, but shouldn’t expect to find it anything like the movie.

 The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.  This counterculture classic comes flavored with hallucinogenics and anarchists. Weird and wonderfully profane at times, it will be most appreciated by those who’ve taken the occasional hit of blotter.


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