The bibliography in the back of the Numenera core rule book is pretty decent, but like most book lists, it could always use some expansion. Gene Wolfe, Michael Moorcock, and Jack Vance are only one way to look at the future a billion years from now. Here are seven more books to inspire your Numenera campaigns.
Dancing With Bears by Michael Swanwick: Darger and Surplus are a pair of conmen traveling across a “post-utopian” future. Here they are escorting gifts from the Caliph of Baghdad to the Duke of Muscovy. One is a young man. The other is a mutant dog. Sorta steampunk. Sorta cyberpunk. Picaresque through and through.
Celebrant by Michael Cisco: DeKlend is trying to reach the city of Votu where time runs backwards and gangs of pigeon girls battle rabbit girls in the streets. Not an adventure novel, so much as a travelogue to an utterly strange land populated by organic machines and the strange societies that worship them.
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin: Mixes the personal with the epic as Essun hunts her murderous husband across a landscape torn apart by cataclysmic forces. This is a world dotted with the ruins of countless previous civilizations, all of which have been destroyed by their own cataclysms to make a landscape alternately elegant, strange, and brutal.
Fain the Sorcerer by Steven Aylett: Fain’s your Cugel-esque rogue caught up in adventures, except Aylett’s imagination is weirder and stranger. You can open this short book to any page and encounter some wonderful insanity you’ll want to steal: “Fain walked among trees which bore fruit like resinous organic gems, until he reached a chasm of steam… the Bridgekeeper had an espaliered head, a bone lattice through which veins and tendons were woven like vines.”
A Double Shadow by Frederick Turner: the book with the lowest rating on Goodreads of all those listed here, it seems to generate the most ire against it, but I love it. A disgruntled terraformer on a future Mars writes a novel about an even further future Mars lampooning the vanities and psychosis of his current co-workers. The resultant novel depicts a society centered on a status economy and the status war that breaks out between the scions of two noble houses (the “top cocks”) when one insults the other.
Memory by Linda Nagata: Your teen on a quest to save a loved one through an alien landscape novel. Jubilee’s world is threatened by clouds of “silver” that alter the landscape and consume those unfortunate to be caught in it. When a stranger steps out from the silver searching for Jubilee’s missing brother, she sets out to find him and solve the mystery of her world.
Gilgamesh translated by Stephen Mitchell: As someone once said the remote past would be as strange to us as the far future. Or, as someone else once said, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Gilgamesh is one of the oldest texts we have, and this translation by Stephen Mitchell is a great one that makes it read like it could sit side by side with Jack Kirby illustrations. The other great thing about Gilgamesh is it’s really short. The book on tape is only two hours long. Give it a listen here on youtube.
And feel free to add your own bits of far future weirdness in the comments.
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: Epic fantasy that doesn’t read like Epic Fantasy is my favorite Epic Fantasy (unless we’re talking about novellas, in which case I have more patience for 400 page “world building” tom foolery). The Winged Histories is that kind of Epic Fantasy. Less a sequel to A Stranger in Olondria than a continued journey into the same world of, in The Winged Histories we follow four women as each tells their stories and is caught in the turmoil of the Olondrian civil war. Some of them are archetypal Epic Fantasy characters such as the Warrior Woman, but Samatar manages to subvert and comment on these characters, as she delves deeper into her setting. I loved this book.
Hard Light by Elizabeth Hand: This is Hand’s third novel featuring the fascinatingly horrible person Cassandra Neary, who’s less an amateur detective than a destructive bystander. If you haven’t read any of these before this one is a decent one to start with, as Cass ends up in London and collides with various counter-culture victims and survivors, and a mystery straight off the Graham Hancock web page. There’s sort of this preposterousness to the novels, like who knew such attention to rock fandom from the 1970s would prove to be so important in 2015, but yeah, if you can swallow that and stomach Cass’s general awfulness the novels are great fun.
The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter: A latter stage cyberpunk novel from the late 1990s, The Fortunate Fall tells about a 24th century journalist on the trail of the truth concerning some 23rd century atrocities. It’s weird, smart, and fun while it gets at concerns regarding free will in a world of manufactured personalities. If you’ve read and liked Pat Cadigan’s stuff, you’d likely enjoy this. Unfortunately, it appears to have been Carter’s only novel (to date) and it’d be fascinating to see what they would publish now twenty-years on deeper into The Matrix. Are we still on schedule for the Unanimous Army to free us from conscious thought with their drill-bits? Or was that a best case scenario?
The Blackbirder by Dorothy B. Hughes: The other covers for this are a lot cooler, but this one was the one I read. The Blackbirder is a 1940s crime novel about a refugee woman from France in the USA illegally on the run from the Gestapo and the FBI when an old acquaintance gets murdered on her doorstep. The chase is fast and rich with paranoia as Julie Guilles flees across country from New York City to Santa Fe in the hopes of finding the mysterious “Blackbirder” who smuggles people across the US border. This is a good thriller, along the lines of Graham Greene’s The Third Man or The Ministry of Fear. This kindle edition was kind of shitty, but if you see a copy or anything else by Hughes, you’d be wise to pick it up.