What are your favorite "far-out" books?
Posted on 31st of July, 2018


I have read probably thousands of books in my lifetime and it is easy to become jaded with the established genres and repeated story tropes. I reached a point where I could identify all the archetypes in a book just by reading the blurb on the jacket. The solution is to try and read the things you would normally avoid, check out the genres that you thought won't appeal to you or just read some downright strange books that will leave your mind craving some safe and familiar reading material again when you are done. If you are sure that this is what you want and ready to throw caution to the wind take a gander at a couple of these babies.

1. Borne (2017) - Jeff VanderMeer: Born is an apocalyptic novel, but not just any type of a apocalypse. No, instead what we have here is a biotech apocalypse, which means there are plenty of freaky creatures roaming about. One of these are called Mord and it is a giant flying grizzly bear that controls the city where Rachel, the protagonist ekes out an existence amongst the ruins. What makes the story really weird is Mord, a type of sea anemone shaped creature that Rachel discovers in Mord's fur of all places. VanderMeer has been called the inventor of weird literature and Borne does nothing to diminish this moniker. The author recently gained some fame thanks to Annihilation, which is part of his Souther Reach Trilogy and which was turned into a film starring Natalie Portman. VanderMeer has plenty of other strange and interesting novels, so his work could be just what you need if "ordinary" stories have become a little stale.

2. Perdido Street Station (2000) - China Mieville: Perdido Street Station is not the first book that combines fantasy with Victorian era technology, but it is one of the weirdest. It is about a scientist who agrees to help someone from a birdlike species to fly again after its wings were removed as punishment. It is during this process that he inadvertently triggers a chain of events that involves massive flying beasts that can eat people's minds, the mob, demons, and even a spider-ish creature that can cross dimensions. If you are tired of typical fantasy stories I think you'll find this book to be a breath of fresh air.

3. Vurt (1993) - Jeff Noon: Vurt takes place in an alternate reality version of the city of Manchester in England and the title of the book refers to the drug that is central to this reality. It is hard to explain, but Vurt is taken by sucking on feathers, which then causes hallucinations which people can share. This alternate reality is filled with all kinds of weird stuff. Anyway, the protagonist of Vurt is Scribble and the story involves him trying to find his sister who disappeared while they used vurt. If you enjoy Vurt, then also read Automated Alice, Nymphomation and Pollen by the same author. These books all get very weird and somehow Noon even manages to connect his books to the Alice in Wonderland ones by Lewis Carroll.

4. The Great Lover (2001) - Michael Cisco: If you have never read "de-genred" fiction before you are missing out on some great books by Michael Cisco. I suggest starting with one of his best, The Great Lover. It is unquestionably eccentric and unmistakably weird. Keeping track of all the madness going on in this book can be challenging, but stick with it and you will be rewarded with a uniquely twisted tale. This book is so strange I don't wouldn't even know how to describe it to someone without them going out of their way to avoid it instead of reading it.

5. Trout Fishing in America (1967) - Richard Brautigan: Just to prove that writing "far-out" books is not a modern trend, I present to you Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. Once again, I would not know where to begin in order to describe this book, but as far as I could tell there really isn't any type of central story. You might think that the book is about catching trout in the USA, but the title also refers to a character in the book as well as a hotel, which means things become very confusing. Brautigan is also fond of using symbolic objects in the story and you have to admire a guy who spends the entire first chapter of his book going on about the front cover, which is a photo of himself.
All books contain some elements of nonsense and require you to suspend your disbelief for the sake of an interesting story. Now I'm sure you are not referring to these books, but rather the ones that thrive on nonsense and build an entire narrative around it. As a genre, it isn't as big or encompassing as science fiction or romance, but there are a couple of authors who fall neatly into this niche and they are not struggling to provide great content either.

Anything by Robert Rankin could be described as nonsense, although the author prefers the term "far fetched fiction." He has been writing these books since the eighties and have amassed quite a bibliography of strangeness. You should really read them all, but my favorites are Armageddon: The Musical, They Came and Ate Us (Armageddon II: The B Movie), The Suburban Book of the Dead (Armageddon III: The Remake), The Book of Ultimate Truths, The Greatest Show Off Earth, A Dog Called Demolition, and Nostradamus Ate My Hamster. If the titles of these books didn't already clue you in that you are in for a wild ride, wait until you start reading them.

He's not as far out as Robert Rankin, but Tom Holt is also worth a read. He's books can be classified as humorous fantasy as he loves poking fun at legends, myths and history. Read Who's Afraid of Beowulf, Grailblazers, Faust Among Equals, Djinn Rummy, Wish You Were Here, and Snow White and The Seven Samurai to see what I am talking about.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams. A man tries to prevent contractors from demolishing his house while they are busy building a bypass and ends up befriending an alien, before finding out that aliens are planning on demolishing Earth while they are busy building a hyperspace bypass.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams. A man working as a holistic detective works on a case where he has to find a missing cat, but becomes embroiled in a case that involves an electric monk, time travel, possession, aliens, and other general weirdness.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde. A woman works as a detective, but his job is to solve crimes that have to do with literature. In this book she runs into her future self as well as manage to land up in Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre. To solve her latest case she must hunt down a master criminal with super powers.
Weird books are actually much more common than what most people think. All you need is a willingness to suppress your urge to put back that book with the weird description on the back and actually read it instead of judging it by its cover. There are too many books to mention, but some of my favorites are Pym by Mat Johnson, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Just Like Beauty by Lisa Lerner, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, The Trial by Franz Kafka and The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. For something extra weird and "out there" you can't beat A Humument: A treated Victorian novel by Tom Phillips. It is more of a piece of art than a book, but it basically involves a brand new story that Phillips created by obscuring most of the original text in the novel A Human Document by W H Mallock.
There are books that are weird and then there are books that are weird just for the sake of being weird. Then there are books where the author probably didn't mean for them to be so weird, but a combination of factors, which may or may not involve mind altering substances, results in a book that is weird. I have a couple of books to recommend from all of these categories, so clear your schedule and try to wrap your head around these;

The House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski will have you scratching your head for days. This isn't just a story that is weird and far-out, but the book itself is too. The page layout is weird, the footnotes within footnotes is weird, the use of different fonts is weird, the words printed in different colors are weird, the upside down pages are weird, and that is before you even get to the actual weird story itself. All in all, The House of Leaves is probably one of the if not THE weirdest book that I have ever read.

The Engine Summer by John Crowley is a very old book that I would love to see get turned into a movie or television series just to see how they even attempt it. The protagonist of this novel is named "Rush that Speaks" and he has a couple of weird objectives as he makes his way around the post-apocalyptic setting of the book. The world is in such a sorry state due to a couple of factors, including extraterrestrial contact and genetic tampering. Rush that Speaks is searching for Once a Day, a girl from his village who he is in love with, but who left.

Float the Pooch by Mark Malamud is an entertaining read if you want a book that isn't just flat out weird, but also laugh out loud funny at times. His style of humor reminds me a bit of Douglas Adams, but even more far-out if that makes any sense. I'm not going to ruin the story because discovering just how weird things get is half the fun, but suffice to say that both David Bowie and Stanley Kubrick are featured as characters.

Motherf***ng Sharks by Brian Allen Carr is a book that tells you everything you need to know about its weirdness right there in the title. But somehow, impossibly enough, it manages to make things even weirder than what you imagined. Most people will see the title and think of all the cheesy shark b-movies that are all the rage and they would be right, but this book takes things a couple of steps further. Depending on how sensitive you are, it might even take things a couple of steps too far, but that is not for me to decide. The author breaks the fourth wall in a couple of places and seems to be on a mission to make people as uncomfortable as possible, so give Motherf**ng Sharks a wide berth if you are easily offended or squeamish.

Duplex by Kathryn Davis is one of those books that you either really, really love or hate with a passion. Nobody can deny that Kathryn has a very vivid imagination, but her writing style takes some getting used to. The best way that I've heard it being described is that it is like trying to make sense of someone else’s dream. I really enjoyed reading the book, but could never quite shake the feeling that understanding the plot is just out of my mental reach.

Half Life by Shelley Jackson is about conjoined twins and the fact that one of them is fed up with the other one and wants her gone. The one twin, Nora, is ready for love and adventure, but feels like her conjoined twin, Blanche, is holding her back. Blanche doesn't really have an opinion on the matter as she's been sleeping away the past twenty years. Nora eventually goes on a search for an organization that might just be able to solve all her problems. Shelley Jackson is known for some offbeat things, such as her "Skin Project" which involved publishing her novella in tattoo form on volunteers, each of whom only received one word. Half Life is a little more intelligible than that, but not much.

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