It's finally happening, people: after a hellish hiatus,
(If you haven't finished season one yet, please do so now, because there are The Good Place is back for its third season. spoilers ahead). We're rejoining our best friends Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, and our demon dad Michael, as they attempt to save themselves from eternal damnation. It's... unorthodox, as far as sitcom premises go. But The Good Place has managed to turn a weird, metaphysical story about the philosophy of ethics into one of TV's greatest comedies. And if you can't get enough of bizarre stories set in the afterlife, then here are a few great books to check out in between episodes.
After all, literature is full of different visions of the afterlife. Homer has his drab, ghostly plane, Virgil has his elaborate underworld with various neighborhoods, and Dante has his guided tour of the multiple levels of hell. These slightly more modern books bring us bureaucratic heavens, cycles of reincarnation,
Groundhog Day-style time loops, and many more creative takes on life after death. Some of them are just as cheeky and cheerful as The Good Place, while others take a more serious look at eternity. Either way, these books are a fascinating peek beyond the proverbial veil: 'Hell' by Robert Olen Butler
Hatcher McCord, a late newscaster, has found himself in hell. He wasn't quite expecting this. But he's in good company: everyone from William Shakespeare to Humphrey Bogart to nearly all of the former popes seems to be in hell along with him. He himself is living with Anne Boleyn (who has trouble keeping her head on). But if everyone is here in hell... who isn't? And where are they? And could there be a way out for Hatcher and his fellow damned?
Click here to buy. 'Food of the Gods' by Cassandra Khaw
By day, Robert Wong makes cannibal hors d’oeuvres for ghouls. By night, he works as a pencil pusher for the Ten Chinese Hells. But even with two jobs, he's struggling to make ends meet, let alone save up enough to buy his ghost girlfriend a proper reincarnation. So when a new job opportunity arrives Robert has to take it—even if it means becoming a pawn in a divine, multi-pantheon war.
Click here to buy. 'Reincarnation Blues' by Michael Poore
Milo has had 9,995 chances at life, and he has yet to get a single one right. He only has five reincarnations left to reach ultimate Perfection... but the trouble is that Milo doesn't especially want to be alive. He doesn't make the most of his time on Earth. He'd much rather spend his days with the love of his many lives, Death herself (who, naturally, prefers to be called Suzie).
Click here to buy. 'Before I Fall' by Lauren Oliver
Samantha Kingston is a popular high school student. She rules the school on "Cupid Day," a pre-Valentine's Day celebration starring Sam and her mean-girl friends. And then she dies in a horrific car crash that night. But rather than moving on to an afterlife, Sam wakes up on the morning of Cupid Day, and she's forced to live the final day of her life all over again... and again... and again... until she can find a way to change the outcome.
Click here to buy. 'The Terracotta Bride' by Zen Cho
Siew Tsin is married to the richest man in hell. That wasn't her choice, but she's resigned to it. The afterlife is pretty comfortable for those who can pay their way out of everlasting torment. But then her husband brings home Yonghua, a new bride made out of terracotta. Siew Tsin finds herself drawn to this strange, artificial woman, and their bond might change hell forever—or end in a very final second death.
Click here to buy. 'The Brief History of the Dead' by Kevin Brockmeier
The City is an afterlife for people who are still remembered by the living. Once you are forgotten, you move on. No one knows quite where you go. But something strange is happening, and the City is shrinking fast: people seem to be forgetting their loved ones en mass, and only a few "surviving" dead folks are left to figure out what's going on in the land of the living.
Click here to buy. 'Elsewhere' by Gabrielle Zevin
Fifteen-year-old Liz Hall has died. Now she is Elsewhere, where it's quiet and peaceful and mental healthcare abounds. There are museums and beaches. No one gets older or falls sick. And Liz wants no part of it at all. She doesn't want to stay here in Elsewhere with the grandmother she barely knows. She wants to turn sixteen, and keep moving forward. But there's only one way out of Elsewhere, and Liz isn't too happy with that, either...
Click here to buy. 'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders
In all fairness,
Lincoln in the Bardo is more of a beautifully heart-wrenching look at limbo or purgatory than at the afterlife proper. We join little Willie Lincoln as he is laid to rest, surrounded by the graveyard ghosts who refuse to move on. If Willie stays with them, it could forever warp his immortal soul... but if he leaves, then how will he ever see his father again? Click here to buy. 'The Lovely Bones' by Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones is definitively on the "less fun" side of the metaphysical spectrum. It's a murder mystery of sorts, a classic "dead girl" tale, except that this time our protagonist is the dead girl herself. She's up in heaven, where she can have nearly anything she wants. And she's watching with increasing frustration as her family struggles to cope with her death back on Earth. Click here to buy. 'Old Habits' by Nalo Hopkinson
What is if the afterlife is just one big mall? Nalo Hopkinson's short story
"Old Habits" takes place in a dismal ghost mall. Here, the spirits of people who died in a real mall are forced to spend their un-life wandering through the shops and food courts, experiencing their own deaths all over again once a day, every day. Click here to buy. 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I'm cheating a little bit here, because most of
Good Omens takes place among the living. But we do get an awful lot of insight into Gaiman and Pratchett's bureaucratic, ridiculously funny take on heaven and hell. Much like The Good Place, this cosmology involves angels and demons who are stressed out about their jobs. There is also at least one serious mix up regarding the Antichrist (who may or may not have been misplaced). Click here to buy. 'The Everafter' by Amy Huntley
Maddy is dead. She knows that. But she has no idea where she is now, or why she's surrounded by strange, luminous objects in a vast, dark space. As she explores these artifacts, however, she realizes that each one offers her a chance to relive a part of her life—and perhaps even change the past.
Click here to buy. 'It's a Wonderful Death' by Sarah J. Schmitt
There's been a terrible mistake. RJ's soul has been accidentally collected by a mixed up Grim Reaper, and now she's stuck in the afterlife until someone can straighten things out. Unfortunately for RJ, though, her soul's fate has become a crucial point in the political struggle between an overzealous archangel and the personification of Death Himself. Now she must prove herself worthy of being saved, or spend the rest of her mortal lifetime waiting in a metaphysical lobby.
Click here to buy. 'What Dreams May Come' by Richard Matheson
The Good Place, the titular Good Place promises a happy eternity with your one true soulmate. But what if you and your true love don't end up in the same afterlife? In What Dreams May Come, the recently deceased Chris finds himself in heaven. But endless bliss isn't enough for Chris. He just wants to be with his wife, Annie, even if it means risking his own soul to find her again. Click here to buy. ''No Exit' by Jean-Paul Sartre
Lastly, of course, we have one of the great philosophical inspirations for
The Good Place itself: No Exit. In Sartre's infamous depiction of hell, three people are locked in a room together. Forever. There's no hellfire or torture. Just them. In a room. For all eternity. Driving each other absolutely mad. It's a funny, dark, existential nightmare of a play, and the origin of the phrase "hell is other people." Click here to buy.