Looking for books about caverns and cave systems
August 1, 2018 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I've read several books recently that involved people going deep into caves or cavern systems, but only as side-plots. I want more!

I have read this question from 10 years ago, most of the answers are not quite on target for what I'm looking for.

I'm interested in both fiction and non-fiction. Primarily interested in books, but I'm open to movies, too (only not the Descent movies, please, because I've seen them and was not a fan).

For fiction: If you've read Jeff Long's novels The Descent and Deeper - that's a good reference point. I found those books overly dry, and the characters extremely flat - but the existence of a vast interconnected network of strange unexplored caverns with strange happenings and strange creatures and strange goings-on... that was exactly on target. I like my caverns dangerous and creepy, with the possibility of getting lost and never finding my way back. House of Leaves was another suggestion from that previous thread. I've read that a LOT, and the strange shifting halls and rooms beneath the house were also on target.

So I guess for fiction I'm looking for "Like The Descent but better written; like House of Leaves but a bit cave-ier." I love fantasy and sci-fi and horror, so please lean your recs in those directions!

In general, I want my fictional caves and caverns to be the major (or at least a major) plot point of the novel, and to scare me or amaze me (or both!) I'm not looking for books like Neverwhere, with people hiding out underground; it's the depth and wonder and claustrophobia and dread of caves I'm specifically looking for.

For non-fiction, I'm interested in basically anything that is primarily about natural underground structures. Not interested in mines for the sake of mines - only as they relate to discovering (uncovering?) natural caves or caverns (the Mines of Moria were good, too!) Books about people getting lost in caves, about people finding caves, exploring caves... books explaining how caves are made, weird fringe books about what might really be at the center of the earth (or you know, just way below our feet), etc. Books about natural wonders like the Carlsbad Caverns would be awesome too (with pictures!)

I'm about to head out on a long road trip, so audio books are also welcome but not required. Thanks in advance!
posted by invincible summer to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Three nonfiction recommendations: I loved Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth when I read it a few years ago. I got a great sense of the claustrophobia and intensity of hardcore cavers. Immediately after that I read Beyond the Deep: The Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous Cave, which was more tightly focused on a specific cave system, but was also enjoyable. I was initially interested in both books because I enjoyed the Jon Krakauer-style writing about people in extreme conditions doing ridiculous things and found it scratched that itch very well. I read them back-to-back so my memories of them blend together, but they genuinely gave me the willies. It's been 5+ years and I still think about them regularly.

We just returned from a road trip ourselves and enjoyed Deep Down Dark/The 33, about the trapped Chilean miners. I avoided it for awhile because I thought it would be sensationalistic and shallow, but it was quite enjoyable. The mine/cave itself features much less prominently, but it was a very good study of how the men survived and the psychological difficulties of surviving underground for months before being rescued. The first section before they are discovered is the most harrowing in terms of "man v. cave" struggle, but we found the sections afterwards about what happened and how the men coped during the months between discovery and rescue were equally interesting (in a different way, more about how average people coped with sudden international celebrity). The writing was insightful, the audiobook narration was really good, and it was a good roadtrip because it had a very strong narrative and a few standout characters to follow (though it was hard to keep all the men straight). The only thing that makes me hesitate in recommending it is that the men apparently didn't profit from the resulting movie, which made me feel a little icky. I don't know if the author had anything to do with that, but I felt really bad when I learned I helped others profit so much off the men's suffering. (But the book itself was really good and sensitive to the men and telling their stories well! So it's complicated.)
posted by lilac girl at 7:20 PM on August 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sort of randomly, I vividly recalled someone on AskMe offering praise for The Longest Cave.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:09 PM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sacred Darkness: A Global Perspective on the Ritual Use of Caves s an archaeological perspective on cave use by people over the ages - though might be a little academic for some.
posted by Rumple at 8:37 PM on August 1, 2018

The third book of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, mostly takes place underground.
posted by irisclara at 9:48 PM on August 1, 2018

You should dig The Maw.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:25 PM on August 1, 2018

I loved The Longest Cave by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson, but it is a nonfiction account of the exploration of the Mammoth Cave System, not a novel. It was my favorite book when I was a kid.

Richard Watson's novel Under Plowman's Floor, based on his exploration work which formed part of The Longest Cave, is a better fit. Here it's not the cave itself, but the caver, that harbors the dark scariness. As Fred gets deeper into the exploration of a seemingly-endless network of cave passages stretching out beneath Kentucky, he grows more obsessed, and his life aboveground disintegrates as he takes greater risks to push the boundaries of the unknown. This is a novel about monomania.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:01 AM on August 2, 2018

Ted the Caver sounds what you are looking for.
posted by maupuia at 1:53 AM on August 2, 2018

Earthcore by Scott Sigler is the first thing I thought of. It’s not high literature, but it’s a well-paced thriller with interesting characters and a creepy underground setting. It was originally released as a serial podcast, and. I heartily endorse consuming it in that form. It’s Sigler’s first novel and has that wonderful quality of having been obsessed over for years and years.
posted by BrashTech at 3:37 AM on August 2, 2018

If you like lighter mysteries, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series has one set in caves - Blind Descent.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:09 AM on August 2, 2018

for pure fear, the underground bit in Alan Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen punches above its weight.
posted by runincircles at 6:14 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's a longform article rather than a book, but Raising The Dead, about the tragic operation to recover the body of Deon Dreyer, is still one of the greatest accounts of cave diving I have ever encountered. I read it eight years ago and I still think about it on at least a monthly basis.

The movie Sanctum is the best caving movie I've seen - at least as far as the sense of intense vastness and deep mystery is concerned. There are a couple of moments so acutely claustrophobic and intense that I get short of breath just remembering them.

In the Problem Pit by Frederick Pohl is a novella about a group of people sent to live together in a cave until they work out a solution to the world's problems. As I recall, the cave system is featured pretty prominently, though it's been a very long time since I read this and I sort of suspect it might be super sexist to 'modern' eyes.

The Mortal and the Monster by Gordon Dickson is another novella, set largely in caves surrounding Loch Ness, and the exploration of them is done from the perspective of a non-human. I linked a short story collection which contains the work.

Kartchner Caverns: How Two Cavers Discovered and Saved One of the Wonders of the Natural World is basically the origin story of a really great State Park, but it's an interesting take on cave conservation and the story of the initial exploration is pretty interesting. Also, if you are ever in Southern Arizona, I cannot recommend a visit to Kartchner enough. I ADORE visiting caves and have been to a ton (though strictly as a tourist in accessible caves, never as a spelunker). Kartchner has one of the best tours I've ever been lucky enough to go on.
posted by DSime at 8:46 AM on August 2, 2018

Not sure if you have seen Werner Herzogs documentary on Chauvet Cave, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but it is excellent. It's also on netflix.
posted by Rumple at 3:18 PM on August 2, 2018

If you're OK with graphic novels, I'd highly recommend Satania.
posted by Awkward Philip at 8:43 AM on August 3, 2018

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