A thing I’ve struggled with, in reconstructing an ancient religion is a feeling of aloneness. Not aloneness in worship, but aloneness in worldview. I’m collecting fiction (mostly fantasy and sci-fi) set in worlds where the reciprocal relationship between humans and the spiritual order is a truth universally acknowledged, where a broad spectrum of religions have fully developed and diverse ethics, and Gods are depicted as Beings beyond the human. No Percy Jackson here! My criteria are quality and truthiness, and this list is entirely subjective. Please send me recommendations, though I can’t promise I’ll read them promptly!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N. K. Jemison (Locus award for Best First Novel, World Fantasy Award)
and its sequels, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods. The court-politics is already fantastic, and on top of it the notion of a imperialistic culture that as it brought cultures under its thumb, also literally enslaved and subordinated their gods. I haven’t actually read the second two, but I am expecting both adventures and themes of redemption expiation and reconciliation. The author created this world with simply a background in Jungian archetypes and a keen understanding of what humans are like. I AM IMPRESS. She deserves all the revenues.
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russel. The story of the fate of a Jesuit mission to an alien planet. This author … I don’t know how she does it. She writes characters so completely that I can’t help but fall in love with them. Everyone is so human, embodied, individual. She forshadows the end from the very beginning, and I walked into this book like an ordeal ritual. Deals with the absolute alienness of God (any God) and the incomprehensible terror of Its love. I cried and cried and cried through this book. There is a sequel, Children of God.
Door Into Fire – Diane Duane
and its sequels Door into Shadow and Door into Sunset. I think this is among the earlier of Duane’s novels, and it is … more optimistic and less gritty than others (more than is my taste) It’s straight high fantasy adventure, but Duane groks the balance between power, service and sacrifice, the uncanniness of spiritual places, interactions with nonhuman beings, and the power of ritual. She hints at a complex mythology of a Triple Goddess that’s different from the usual neopagan stereotypes, that I find really really truthy. The fictional world’s cultures are for the most part completely un-anxious about gender roles, sexuality, polyamory and homosexuality, and teach children agency and consent from the word go! It is a breath of fresh air and escapism for me.
So You Want to Be a Wizard aka the Young Wizards series (YA) – Diane Duane. BASICALLY PERFECT. Magic works in this world as a language, wizards are people who know the language of the reality of things, and use it skilfully enough to convince the things around them to be different. Duane describes amazingly the feeling of urgency that comes with a calling to aid the Universe. If only I could replace the Wiccan Rede in every instance with her Wizard’s Oath, we might suddenly have a much more active and ethically-conscious world. She is fantastic at writing aliens, and never seems to miss an opportunity to make a critical side-character a nonhuman.
Filter House – Nisi Shawl. Nisi’s whole body of work is worth reading YESTERDAY. (Here are stories available for free on her website) Filter House led me to realize Sci-Fi was a place to look for the sense of familiarity I was searching for in fiction. Wallamellons might as well be true, in my worldview, and Goodboy (the story of a woman trying to bring to relevance her ancestors’ techniques of spirit-mediumship, long relegated to land of “ignorant superstition”, on a spaceship) just makes me so happy.
Dark Matter, a Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora – ed. Sheree Thomas. It is MIGHTY WHITE of me, that it took me so long to realize that magic and familiar relationships to the spiritual world are ALL OVER African-diaspora writing. Not all of these have religious or spiritual themes/elements, but the ones that do as often as not reference West African myths and traditional religion. Even the sci-fi. ESPECIALLY the sci-fi. And the rest are equally amazing stories.
Dark Matter: Reading the Bones – ed. Sheree Thomas. This one is in my bag to read right now, but I have confidence in how awesome it will be.
Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor. A Teen With Powers story that I like better than most Teen With Powers stories.
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov. Satire! The Devil comes to atheist Soviet Russia. He does just what He pleases, as the bureaucracy convinces itself nothing is happening. Has more nuances and angles than I could write about here, huge reread value.
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino. Vignettes that hang comfortably between the real and the impossible. I love Calvino dearly, and I love the reminder of the fuzziness of the boundaries between “real” “invented” “hoped-for” and “false”.
Collected Fictions – Jorge Louis Borges. This is the only whole anthology (and translation) by Borges that I am familiar with, but I recommend everything by this author. Myths that become real in the process of telling, experiences that break down as someone tries to capture them in words, every sort of impossibility lives here. Pierre Maynard, Author of the Quixote, The Theologians, Three Versions of Judas, and Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius I find particularly relevant to pagan reconstructionists. I bet there are more, but I haven’t gone outside my favorites for a while. I consider Borges very similar to Calvino, and both authors seem to be intimately acquainted with my understanding of how the world works.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susannah Clarke. English Magicians aid in the fight against Napoleon! Very good depictions of the Otherness of others, particularly fairies. Themes of madness and exactly why deals with spiritual beings require careful wording. Satirical on the points of … ways that humans would often rather do anything than act, and the only thing they hate worse than acting is questioning their assumptions.
Alcestis – Katherine Beutner. A retelling of the myth of underworld return, with a little “first novel” roughness. Her characters have very vividly written relationships with the gods all around them, and the gods, when they appear themselves, are convincingly beyond human understanding, while still having humanlike individuality. It belongs on the reading list of anyone who appreciates stories retold by characters whose narratives weren’t privileged the first time around; the limitations of ancient Greek womanhood are sharply outlined. There are queer relationships!