I loved Inception. Can you recommend any _books_ that would be similar?
July 19, 2010 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I loved Inception. Can you recommend any books that would be similar?
posted by blueplasticfish to Media & Arts (80 answers total) 152 users marked this as a favorite
It would help if you said what it was about Inception that you loved. Dreams? Genre-bending plot? Heist? Ambiguous ending?
posted by resiny at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: resiny: I liked all of that. Mostly, though, I enjoy time/dream/sci-fi/alt-reality plots.
posted by blueplasticfish at 11:49 AM on July 19, 2010

For some reason, I'm reminded of Voice of the Whirlwind. In a world where you can clone your body and download memories to the new body, a man wakes up to find that his original self failed to keep the memories updated before being murdered. The body is the same, with a 15-year-old set of memories.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:50 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just saw the movie last night, and was discussing exactly the same question. The consensus was that Philip K. Dick books would be a good place to start.
posted by heyforfour at 11:51 AM on July 19, 2010

I was about to suggest PKD's Ubik.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:52 AM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

or PKD in general
posted by kittensofthenight at 11:54 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ubik. Eye in the Sky is also a good one of his along the same lines.
posted by hobgadling at 11:54 AM on July 19, 2010

For some reason, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle comes to mind.
posted by cabingirl at 11:55 AM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

You might like The Raw Shark Texts.
posted by NoraReed at 11:57 AM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Haven't seen the movie yet, but from the sound of it, you may enjoy Greg Egan's Quarantine. It's more "hard" science fiction, and the ending's a little weak, but it definitely has some mind-fuckery about what's real.
posted by kindall at 11:58 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

i'm with cabingirl - my first thought was Haruki Murakami and specifically the wind-up bird chronicle.
posted by nadawi at 12:00 PM on July 19, 2010

Oh hey, another AskMe where David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is a great recommendation!

If you dig it, his other stuff (Ghostwritten and Number9Dream) is great as well. Trippy mind-bending literature is his four-tay!

Infinite Jest and Gravity's Rainbow may be up your twisted alley as well.
posted by carsonb at 12:01 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Murakami.

Also, Umberto Eco comes to mind.
posted by purephase at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Vurt, by Jeff Noon

Transition, by Iain Banks

The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houllebecq

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers.

are the first few that immediately come to mind.

Maybe also The Child Garden (or even 253) by Geoff Ryman.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien.
The short stories of Borges.
My Education: A Book of Dreams, by William S. Burroughs.
Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Greg Bear's Queen of Angels. It's a multiple-POV novel where one of the strands is about people using [tech] to wander around inside someone else's mind. In that sense it's more similar to the movie The Cell, though.

Seconding Quarantine.


rot-13d because mentioning it here is kind of a spoiler: Qnejvavn ol Eboreg P. Jvyfba.

Arguably, The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks.

Egan's Diaspora is primarily set among AIs in a computer environment that's sort of like a dreamscape.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

House of Leaves.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, while we're on Banks, Complicity.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2010

House of Leaves, and just about anything by: Harumi Murakami, Philip K. Dick, Jorge Luis Borges, Neal Stephenson. I've heard good things about Cloud Atlas and am reading it for that reason.
posted by lhall at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

oh god yes, house of leaves is such a beautiful mindfuck.
posted by nadawi at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2010

Second the Raw Shark Texts and anything Murakami!
posted by drewgillson at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2010

Oh oh! The Borges suggestion reminded me of Julio Cortazar's short story collection End of the Game. It's just packed full of dream-like weirdness, shares Inception's distinct lack of technology, and revels in the self/itself.
posted by carsonb at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2010

Cloud Atlas, Philip K. Dick, Murakami (especially Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), and Stanislaw Lem's Futurological Congress, which involves a similar layering of realities, due to psychedelic drugs.
posted by pombe at 12:30 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

looking at this list of authors and thinking about the question - you might just want to dip your toes into the waters of magical realism.
posted by nadawi at 12:32 PM on July 19, 2010

Ha! I came in here to suggest Murakami.

Also check out some of the earlier works of Orhan Pamuk such as Snow and The New Life.
posted by copperbleu at 12:33 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Baudolino, perhaps?
posted by halogen at 12:34 PM on July 19, 2010

I've also just read "The City & the City" by China Mieville and it could definitely fit into this genre.
posted by lhall at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2010

Definitely Arc D'X or Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson.
posted by hermitosis at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2010

Eco's an unsettling suggestion, I don't know why. Baudolino is the epitome of the unreliable narrator, The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum are weird and dreamy and fulfill the heist-ish alikeness, and Island of the Day Before is the closest to sci-fi/alt-reality. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana doesn't really parallel Inception at all—though it is about memories and reunions.
posted by carsonb at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2010

Beaten so badly on the Murakami recommendations, but I will give a specific rec for Kafka on the Shore, which deals a lot with the boundaries between reality and imagination and which I found amazing to read because it's like being inside a puzzle. I don't know how else to describe it.

Depending on your affinity for sci-fi, you may also like Greg Bear's City at the End of Time, which is set (partially) after the heat death of the universe and contains some pretty mind-blowing imagery.
posted by trunk muffins at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I immediately thought of Greg Bear's Queen of Angels when I recently saw the trailer for Inception, so that sounds accurate (not much else by Bear would fit your criteria though).

Seconding Jorge Luis Borges and Murakami. Thomas Pynchon, Crying of Lot 49, if you're not scared of his novels the way some are. Some of Gene Wolfe's works - novels like Peace and Fifth Head of Cerberus, and in particular a lot of his short stories and novellas (the New Sun, Long Sun and Short Sun books are tricky, but in a narrative way, not a reality bending way, so they don't really fit). I'd also add Robert Charles Wilson's Mysterium, Darwinia, and the Chonoliths; Matt Ruff's books, particularly Set This House in Order and Bad Monkeys; and Tim Powers' urban fantasies, like Last Call and Expiration Date.
posted by aught at 12:49 PM on July 19, 2010

I haven't seen the movie, only read about it, but it sounded a bit like "The Wonderland Gambit" trilogy by Jack Chalker.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:51 PM on July 19, 2010

Oh, yeah, hermitosis got one I forgot -- almost any Steve Erickson novel (note, not Steven Erikson, who writes a different kind of fantasy work) would fit your criteria; surreal, dream-like, intense books.
posted by aught at 12:53 PM on July 19, 2010

One more that I recently read - Ian McDonald's Brasyl.
posted by aught at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2010

The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
Pinocchio in Venice by Robert Coover
A Spectre is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:01 PM on July 19, 2010

Muller-Focker Effect by John Sladek
Idoru by William Gibson
Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabakov
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:08 PM on July 19, 2010

This question was linked to by The Awl, and commenters there have also posted ideas (some of which are the same as above).
posted by questionsandanchors at 1:25 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you may really enjoy Passage by Connie Willis; it covers some similar territory (near-death experiences rather than dreams) and packs a similar narrative and emotional punch at the end.
posted by mayhap at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2010

House of Leaves
posted by bradbane at 2:00 PM on July 19, 2010

Someone mentioned Stephenson, but between finishing Anathem on Saturday and seeing Inception on Sunday, I'm pretty sure I broke my reality detectors.
posted by natabat at 2:18 PM on July 19, 2010

Also recommending Murakami, and very strongly recommending Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World. If you like the multiple levels of Inception, you'll most likely really, really enjoy this book. Kafka on the Shore is good as well, and Wind-up Bird Chronicle is fantastic, but I think Hard Boiled Wonderland is most like what you're after.

And definitely Jorge Luis Borges.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:19 PM on July 19, 2010

I haven't seen Inception yet either, but I have an impression of the subject matter.

'Only Forward' by Michael Marshall Smith is a fantastic, touching book that includes shared dreaming as a theme.
posted by chmmr at 2:34 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man, I've been thoroughly beaten to the punch on everything that initially comes to mind, so I'll just second some stuff...

PKD, obviously, and UBIK in particular.
Vurt, recommended times a million. There are some follow up books by Noon but Vurt is by far the best of that bunch.
Iain Banks (M. and less), particularly Transitions.

I have no clue why people are recommending House of Leaves other than it is the knee jerk recommendation for everything.
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Nthing the Futurological Congress, of course!
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on July 19, 2010

Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem
posted by nicwolff at 2:59 PM on July 19, 2010

The short story Goliath by Neil Gaiman, available in either the short story collection Fragiel Things or in The Matrix Comics Vol. 1. It's not actually a comic, though it is nominally set in the Matrix universe (or at least a version of it).
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on July 19, 2010

The works of Victor Pelevin, particularly Babylon, The Clay Machine-Gun and maybe Omon Ra.
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on July 19, 2010

Oh, and Rudy Rucker in general.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on July 19, 2010

Oh, and if we are going to talk comics as well as novels you want to read The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, The Filth also by Morrison and his runs on Doom Patrol and Animal Man.
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Robert Silverbergs "Majipoor" Series features an island where the king Of Dreams punishes wrongdoers by sending them nightmares. The Lady of sleep sends dreams to guide and instruct. Its been a long time since I read any of it though.

For some reason I'm also going to suggest Sherri Teppers "The True Game".
posted by Admira at 3:09 PM on July 19, 2010

The History of Danish Dreams perhaps?
posted by Coobeastie at 3:12 PM on July 19, 2010

Also check out some of the earlier works of Orhan Pamuk such as Snow and The New Life.

Snow is fairly recent, I thought? Maybe you are thinking of The White Castle which features a mindfuck moment done in such a way that I almost thought it might have been possible to miss it. In retrospect, I think it was sneakily done so that you feel clever for not having missed it, but that it would have been somewhat unlikely to actually miss it. Still, it stands out as the only instance in reading fiction where I can recall having scrambled back to the beginning of the book to make sure that what I thought had happened had actually happened.
posted by juv3nal at 3:58 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

drop everything and read "A Maze of Death" - Philip K Dick
posted by jockc at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2010

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the best time/dream/sci-fi/alt-reality stories i have ever read
posted by jammy at 4:59 PM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

I STRONGLY nth the recommendation of Murakami's "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World." It's surprising and dreamy, and unexpected. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:11 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Douglas Hofstadter - Godel Escher and Bach. I personally think it was a significant influence on the film and Hans Zimmer said he read it as research for the score.
posted by empath at 6:11 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just read Dick's The Man in the High Castle which struck me as highly related.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:14 PM on July 19, 2010

The Raw Shark Texts.Eric Sanderson has lost his memory, his girl, his life as he once knew it. His pre-amnesiac self is sending him letters, a sort of correspondence course on how to be Eric Sanderson. Unfortunately, this previous self didn't really have it all together either. This is too bad, because the source of all the trouble is a conceptual shark, a Ludovician shark, no less. Soon Eric is on the run, trying to piece it all together and find true love before his mind gets wiped by the shark for the twelfth and probably final time.
posted by Brainy at 6:18 PM on July 19, 2010

Very, very strongly seconding Hard-Boilded Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. I would honestly be surprised if Nolan hadn't read it, although it's certainly possible.
posted by cthuljew at 8:55 PM on July 19, 2010

Job: A Comedy of Justice by Heinlein. Base on your description - I haven't seen the film you mention.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:30 PM on July 19, 2010

G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
Proto-detective fiction with anarchists and encroaching unreality!
posted by speicus at 10:41 PM on July 19, 2010

Remainder by Tom McCarthy. Deals with the obsessive and haunting nature of memory and the blurring of the lines between past and current experience.

Also would like to throw J.G. Ballard's name into the discussion- he was fairly obsessed with the strangeness of dreams, the border of reality and unreality, and the peculiarities of time.
posted by ryaninoakland at 3:00 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

A little on the esoteric side, but the Cities of the Red Night trilogy by William Burroughs might be at the extreme end of what you are looking for, particularly Place of Dead Roads (don't worry too much about reading them out of sequence).
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on July 20, 2010

Like seemingly everyone else, my first thought was of Iain Banks. However, I didn't think of any of the books already mentioned!

The Bridge. Three different aspects of the same personality, with a lot of the action and big-train-set (literally!) feeling of Inception.

I'd also like to second The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, particularly because of the ending.
posted by smcg at 1:38 PM on July 20, 2010

If you're not averse to comics, you might appreciate The Invisibles. You'll have to sink some money into it for the full series, but I really liked it. I'm a fan of PKD, and have had some of these other authors recommended to me at various times, so I think there may be some cross over.

DISCLAIMER: I've not yet seen Inception, but plan to do so.
posted by symbioid at 5:07 PM on July 20, 2010

The story it reminded me of the most is "The Winter Market" by William Gibson, a short story in his collection Burning Chrome. There are other stories in there as well which have similarities to Inception.
posted by Kattullus at 8:05 PM on July 20, 2010

I checked what William Gibson had mentioned anything on his Twitter feed and he was reminded of Fritz Leiber and The Big Time specifically. Reading what Gibson, who many people were reminded of, was reminded of, is a bit like going into a dream while inside a dream. It couldn't be more appropriate really. I'm gonna get it from the library myself.
posted by Kattullus at 9:12 PM on July 20, 2010

Ubik for sure. (A note I made to myself midway through reading it: "What the fuck is going on?! Ubik is a crazy crazy book.") Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridtch is also quite good. (It's got some seriously pulpy descriptions of women: "frail and blonde but huge in the balcony," "There was something about her—beyond the obvious physical, anatomical enormity—that fascinated him") It's all about crazy drugs, so you are never quite sure what's real and what's a drug induced hallucination. Martian Time Slip is also interesting. (Assuming i'm remember the right book.) PKD is pretty awesome, all in all.

The Coma by Alex Garland is also kind of interesting, but I don't recall enjoying it that much.
posted by chunking express at 1:42 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The opium den / dreamer scene is a direct lift from one of my favourite books of all time - The Telepathist by John Brunner - it's a little dated now, but the ideas hold together well. Definitely a recommendation.
posted by Metheglen at 2:14 PM on July 21, 2010

Just finished The Etched City by KJ Bishop, a fantastic book that definitely has a dream-like quality.
posted by nikitabot at 2:55 PM on July 21, 2010

You may really enjoy the comic book Planetary. Every issue is original enough to spawn an entire series.
posted by GilloD at 6:40 PM on July 21, 2010

Billionth-ing House of Leaves.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:20 PM on July 21, 2010

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry - I just finished it and the trailers for Inception feel like a rip-off!
posted by pants at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2010

Late to the party here, but I'd recommend The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. In the book, a global war is fought in an off-kilter near-future with bombs that simply erase their targets from reality. The fallout is a bizarre metaphysical substance called Stuff which can be shaped by the subconscious mind, causing all sorts of horrifying and impossible creatures to manifest and consume the world.

The few human survivors rely on a pipeline spouting FOX, a gas which disperses Stuff, keeping the nightmares at bay and solidifying objective reality. When the pipeline suffers a critical malfunction, a team of civil engineers is hired by the corporate/government owner of the pipe to journey into the Stuff-ravaged wastelands to find a solution.

Unlike Inception, the tone of the book is self-conscious and satirical, and Harkaway writes with a sort of wild abandon full of tangents and flashbacks and side-stories and florid prose. But it does have a strong dreamlike feel to it, and the same themes of conspiracy and espionage and loss of identity, especially later on in the story.

Just think of it as Inception's limbo, but with the corporate machinations of the movie transferred there and with all the projections given personality and agency, and then put the whole thing on a sugar high.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:15 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I swear I am not paid by KJ Parker to recommend his/her books (even though it seems I am constantly doing it), but the Scavenger trilogy is very similar although in a completely different setting.

"A man wakes in the wilderness, amid scattered corpses and inquisitive crows. He has no memory of who he is or how he came to be there. The only clues to his former existence lie in his apparent skill with a sword and the fragmented dreams that permeate his sleep."
posted by exceptinsects at 12:11 AM on July 23, 2010

If it's a time/dream/sci-fi/alt-reality mindfuck you're looking for, Rick Moody's 'The Albertine Notes' (excerpt here, full story here) is pretty much exactly what you want.
posted by verstegan at 12:48 PM on July 24, 2010

Slaves of sleep by Ron L. Hubbard. he of Scientology, of all people.
posted by Eltulipan at 3:04 PM on July 26, 2010

For Annie
by Edgar Allan Poe

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep!
Oh, God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
Oh, God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that I see or seem
But a dream within a dream?.

Propaganda's dramatic reading of it
posted by stuartcw at 7:48 PM on August 6, 2010

Dreamlands stories by H.P.Lovecraft forming a set of stories known as the Dream Cycle.
posted by stuartcw at 7:52 PM on August 6, 2010

Many dreams within dreams in the 1945 French novel The Experience of the Night by Marcel Bealu.
posted by ajourneyroundmyskull at 10:17 PM on August 6, 2010

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