I loved Myst/Riven. What books would I love?
January 25, 2016 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Way back in the day I LOVED Myst/Riven. I don't play PC games anymore. Are there any properly good books that have a similar feel/appeal that I can read to recapture that experience?

Yes, I know, the games are a lot about figuring things out for yourself and puzzle solving and exploring, and all of that is sort of difficult to achieve in a book since the author is unavoidably leading your experience of it, but surely there are books that have a similar sort of "You've been tossed into this really confusing and effed up situation, what the christ is that weird thing over there, hey look a puzzle!" kind of feel, right?

In particular I'm looking for
- a "normal" person is dropped into a pretty unfamiliar/weird/confusing situation
- exploration/discovery
- not knowing who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, who has your best interests in mind
- a definite sense of the environment being unusual, not the world we're familiar with
- a story that is less about the individual who has been dropped into the situation, and more about the situation they have been put in

Books I've read that I liked that were kind of along the right lines but not entirely right:
- American Gods, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys and most other books by Neil Gaiman
- Fantastic Journey and most other books by Isaac Asimov
- The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly

Finally, if there are PS3 games that have a similar feel I'm open to those suggestions as well.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Media & Arts (56 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Haruki Murakami. I'd recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 in particular.
posted by hollyholly at 7:00 AM on January 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

You might also try Stanislaw Lem. Eden, for example but most of his novels fall into this category.
posted by vacapinta at 7:04 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books (and his other less-popular series) are like this -- his worlds have patently different histories and physics and suchlike, but he just sort of off-handedly refers to them, so you're (delightfully) stuck with trying to figure out the "rules" on your own.
posted by Etrigan at 7:07 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

On the non-PC game front, if you have a smartphone (iOS or Android), I highly recommend The Room games (The Room, The Room 2 and The Room 3). They're puzzle/adventure games that are the closest I've seen to Myst and riven on mobile.

Year Walk is also a great choice though I think it's iOS and PC only.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:08 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The classic example of this has to be Alice in Wonderland, right? Even if you've already read it, or it sounds too familiar, I'd recommend reading The Annotated Alice version, annotated by Martin Gardner, and including the original illustrations.
posted by rollick at 7:15 AM on January 25, 2016

This might be an odd suggestion, but I feel like I have heard people compare Griffin and Sabine and its sequels to Myst - it has that same kind of aesthetic/mood. (I found out through AskMe recently that there was actually a Myst-like game based on these books back in the day.)
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:18 AM on January 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

If you're cool with children's books and illustration, Dinotopia is delightful.
posted by phunniemee at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I mean, it's certainly not Murakami, but I found S. (conceived by JJ Abrams and written by Doug Dorst) to be exactly the sort of creepy, engaging, puzzle-y, WTF experience that Myst was.

YMMV, based on your ability to not instantly hate things which JJ touches.
posted by Dorinda at 7:29 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer could be good too. There's a sample chapter at the link.
posted by rollick at 7:30 AM on January 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is exactly the book you're looking for.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:37 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've heard really good things about S along those lines. There are a few libraries that lend it but not many. I definitely had the same feeling about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. For a more simplistic approach Ready Player One is a little more literal about this and it's more the protagonist figuring things out and not you the reader but it has some interesting gamefeel to it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on January 25, 2016

You might be interested in the Big Dumb Object (BDO) genre. In this genre the protagonist finds or wakes up in some kind of gigantic constructed space. They have to explore the space to escape; typically the space is inhabited by strange semi human creatures or strange technology.

Ringworld - Larry Niven
Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
Sphere - Michael Crichton
Hull Zero Three - Greg Bear

You might like the animated short Magnetic Rose by Satoshi Kon.
posted by gregr at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

A lot of literature written about or during authoritarian regimes also falls into this category I think. The rules are sometimes arbitrary and perhaps unknowable. There's Kafka, for example, and The Trial.

For something completely different, I found Edmund White's Forgetting Elena, fascinating and baffling. In this case the puzzle is the world of complex social rules.
posted by vacapinta at 7:49 AM on January 25, 2016

Seconding Annihilation (and Lost, actually, which reminded me a lot of Myst/Riven in the first couple seasons), along with the mysterious & sad Lem novels.

Some of my favorite “regular person thrown into unfamiliar world & has to figure out what the rules are” stories are spy thrillers. Eric Ambler was a master of this -- A Coffin for Dimitrios, Journey Into Fear, etc. They’re not trippy the way such SF/F stories are, but the POV is with the protagonist the entire time, as they suss out what sort of puzzle they're solving. And the territory ends up so unfamiliar they might as well be on another planet.
posted by miles per flower at 7:53 AM on January 25, 2016


There is a single right answer and I know it.

The answer is The Magus by John Fowles.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:54 AM on January 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

Oh I loved Myst and Riven too!

Stephen Donaldson's Mordants Need (2 books) is very much a person dropped headlong into another world, don't know who to trust story. It doesn't suffer from the flaws of some of his other stories that prevent me from re-reading them (rape). It's a big ol' fantasy love story with dollops of magic and politics and its lots of fun.
posted by Ness at 7:56 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you read Harry Potter? Because it meets nearly all the criteria.
posted by INFJ at 7:57 AM on January 25, 2016

Thirding Annihilation!
posted by esoterrica at 8:02 AM on January 25, 2016

PuppetMcSockerson: "Finally, if there are PS3 games that have a similar feel I'm open to those suggestions as well."

So, they are more action-y than puzzle-y (though there is are certainly puzzle elements to them), but two(three) PS3 games to check out: Journey and the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection might give you the same kind of "rescue mission/quest in a beautiful unpopulated and mysterious world" feeling. They are truly wonderful games.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I immediately thought of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch:

- An intricate, strange, but believable setting (sort of a fantasy Venice)
- The feeling of being tossed into and zooming through an unusual world
- A central mystery (the book focuses on assassins) and embarking on a journey while not quite knowing everyone's true motives
posted by mochapickle at 8:15 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

If young adult sci fi is on the table, try Futuretrack 5 by Robert Westall. The main character is stuck in a near-future England which patently operates by some pretty scary rules, but the neat thing is that there's another set of rules which the protagonist isn't aware of at the outset.

Another where the scenario is not all that it initially seems is The Prince in Waiting (there are three in the series) by John Christopher. Also has one of the more surprising arcs for a main character that I can remember reading.

There's a lot of cool world-building and good guy/bad guy ambiguity in both of these.
posted by FavourableChicken at 8:27 AM on January 25, 2016

The Magus by John Fowles, which I see was already recommended above.
posted by Leontine at 8:30 AM on January 25, 2016

7 Steps to Midnight by Richard Matheson
posted by fourpotatoes at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2016

Also, Only Forward by Michael Marhall Smith
posted by fourpotatoes at 8:35 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Coincidentally, there was an article on Ars Technica this morning with "Myst-like" in the subtitle: "The Witness review: A haunting, beautiful, coldly logical puzzle allegory Long-awaited, Myst-like follow-up to Braid is a masterclass of puzzle design."

Alas, PS4 not PS3, but the previous game Braid is available on PS3.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:45 AM on January 25, 2016

Wow! Great suggestions so far!

Have you read Harry Potter? Because it meets nearly all the criteria.

I agree, they are pretty much perfect, and Harry Potter is my most favourite series ever. Read the entire series many many times over.

I have also read and reread a few times Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, as they fit the bill as well.

Interesting mention of the tv show Lost. Totally correct that it fits the bill, and it was one of my favourite shows, unsurprisingly. Never made the connection though. LOL
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:50 AM on January 25, 2016

Seconding Rock Steady's recommendation of the game Journey, for the PS3. I can't recommend it highly enough. I was a Myst/Riven lover back in the day, also. It's not just a game, it's art. Do yourself a favor and play it.
posted by cleverevans at 9:08 AM on January 25, 2016

I kinda want to suggest the books of Tim Powers. A lot of them concern Secret Magical Histories Of The World. Usually the lead character has no idea what's going on, and we slowly come to understand how this magic world works along with them.
posted by egypturnash at 9:18 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

> The Magus by John Fowles, which I see was already recommended above.

My generally sensible grandfather became so frustrated with all the twists and turns in a borrowed copy of this book that half way through he took it out to the backyard, dropped it on the ground and put several .45 caliber bullets through it at close range.

Then he had to buy a replacement copy to return.

By way of making a third endorsement.
posted by roue at 9:21 AM on January 25, 2016 [24 favorites]

For real, endorsing the book based upon the fact your otherwise normal grandfather choosing to destroy the book by means of firing squad is pretty much the most persuasive and convincing book recommendation I have ever experienced. Consider that book on my list.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:25 AM on January 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Man, I hated The Magus, but roue makes me wonder if I shouldn't give it another try.
posted by hollyholly at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore may fit in here.
posted by brentajones at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2016

I'm not sure if anyone's suggested this, but check out The Myst Reader. It's a trilogy of books set in the same universe, and is way fun to read.
posted by theraflu at 10:07 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ok, so this is a weird suggestion but I think you might really like it: Riddley Walker.

It's a novel set in the very far future, thousands of years after the end of our civilization. It's written in the first person in a sort of peculiar vernacular based on our English. When I read it last year I found the language to form a delightful sort of linguistic puzzle that carries you through the entire novel. And when you "get" the language, you also "get" the setting of the book. Very satisfying, and I also think it's a very profound and moving novel.
posted by selfnoise at 10:08 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Would you have any interest in the Myst Reader, the collection of novels they did based on the game?

A note about Mr. Penumbra's - The short story is far superior to the novel, IMHO. Can't get too far into why without spoilers. Admittedly the novel does explain more and have more payoff for the central mystery. But the short story is clever; the novel got stupid and the resolution rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of how pattern analysis would work.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2016

I am almost certain you will love The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.
posted by superfluousm at 10:24 AM on January 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also perhaps The Prestige. The book, not the movie.
posted by brentajones at 10:33 AM on January 25, 2016

The Night Circus has a wonderful exploration element, and will certainly hit your "different world" criteria (even thought it is set within "our" world). It's totally enchanting.
posted by kimdog at 10:34 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing Annihilation -- it's amazing. Mood-wise, it's basically Myst in book form.

I also wanted to mention the Wool series. It's fun and it meets your criteria very, very well.
posted by ourobouros at 11:33 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recommend The Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart and in fact all three books in the Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. Set in ancient China so it may well be another world. Plenty of mystery, suspense, and at the bottom a really great story.
posted by ball00000ns at 11:40 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock. Gloomy and mysterious with odd landscapes, I think it has the feeling you're looking for.
posted by goo at 11:44 AM on January 25, 2016

Came here also to mention The Magicians. It seems utterly perfect for you. Same sense of menace and otherworldliness. I'd be sure to read the Narnia books first though.

A few other supernatural fiction books, in a similar vein:

Johnathan Strange and Mister Norrel by Susanna Clarke


Both The Stress of Her Regard and On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers.

There have been media adaptations of a bunch of these as well, but I'd stick with the books first, at least.
posted by bonehead at 12:56 PM on January 25, 2016

House of Leaves !!!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:03 PM on January 25, 2016

I was just about to suggest House of Leaves, too! It's disorienting and mysterious, and I had the unsettling feeling that the titular house was embodied within the pages of the book itself. That book was somehow alive and it was a fantastic reading experience.
posted by phatkitten at 1:09 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I read the question, my mind went to Haruki Murakami also.
But I thought of "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World".
posted by Seamus at 1:14 PM on January 25, 2016

I'm not sure The Night Circus is a good book qua book, but it is fun and dreamy.

If you can play a computer game, do Undertale.


Its not terribly long, but man. It should have minimal hardware requirements (basically nothing)
posted by Jacen at 3:05 PM on January 25, 2016

The Magicians
posted by miyabo at 3:20 PM on January 25, 2016

The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis. The title is best remembered for the Bowie film, but Tevis was a hell of an author with The Hustler and Color of Money also to his credit.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:38 PM on January 25, 2016

Tons of books to add to my queue! I hAve marked a few answers as best with the suggestions that I am going to add to my kindle first but frankly all of these suggestions sound awesome! Thanks!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2016

You may enjoy The Rook.
posted by willnot at 6:46 PM on January 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None is in a way like this, plus it takes place on a craggy island, so very Myst-like.

Of course, it is a mystery novel with murders and such, but very good in this sense.
posted by easter queen at 8:05 PM on January 25, 2016

It falls apart a little bit at the end, but a book called Night Film fits the bill. It's about a journalist who attempts to get to the bottom of the career of a reclusive film mastermind who's horrific images may have more basis in reality than anyone suspects.

Similar, and better written is Syndrome E, which is a detective novel about a film that drives its viewers to madness.

Both build up shadow worlds that the protagonists fall into.

I've not read it, but I've heard that Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children scratches a similar itch.
posted by codacorolla at 8:11 PM on January 25, 2016

Metropolitan and its sequel City On Fire, by Walter Jon Williams. It's hard to describe the premise, but especially the first one has a lot of Myst feel in its world-building IMHO.

Also: Out On Blue Six by Ian MacDonald. A Brazil-esque dystopia but lots of exploration of a very strange world, with a a kind of magical realist feel.
posted by kindall at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2016

I love books that make you figure out what the heck is going on as you read. Hopefully this is sort of similar to what you mean. If I had to pick a single book that scratched this itch for me, it would be Anathem by Neal Stephenson, for sure.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 1:58 PM on January 26, 2016

Eon by Greg Bear is, I think, a pretty good fit for this.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2016

In case anyone checks back, 1Q84 and Annhiliation were absolutely bang on what I was looking for and really enjoyed them both. Sphere I had read previously but it absolutely fits and is a great read. Solid "WTF is going on" aspect.

I read all three of The Magicians books and they were truly wonderful amazing reads but lacked in the "I have no idea what is going on, let me keep reading to try to figure it out". I'd still recommend them just because they're great, but not for the same Myst quality.

Started Hull Zero Three but so far haven't made much progress because I'm a wuss and it is a bit too scary for me, especially for before-bed reading. :( I'm going to keep trying, though, because I'm finding it really interesting.

I've also been bombing through the Foundation books, and while they aren't very "WTF" there is a certain aspect of "how is this going to play out" and "what the hell!" about it, especially with psychohistory and how it evolves. I'm finding them enormously satisfying.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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