Portals in sci-fi and fantasy
One of the oldest and most beloved tropes in science fiction and fantasy is the portal story. It goes like this:
Hero discovers a portal to a new world and steps through it. Sometimes the stepping through is an accident, other times a choice. Either way, when they land on the other side they’re in a strange new world, and they must face an increasingly difficult circumstances to adjust to their new way of life, or fight like hell to get back home.
No matter what the twist, in portal fiction, you’re guaranteed to be transported.
Famous examples of portal fiction
Sometimes the goal of a portal story is for the hero or main characters to to be reunited with their family, as in my book The Auriga Project. Other times, they have to stop a war. There’s one Japanese sub-genre of anime and manga called Isekai, where the characters commonly get trapped in the new world and must take on new lives.
Portal fiction is popular and people love it. Their love keeps famous books selling year after year, as they introduce classics like Alice in Wonderland to their children. I know I’ve got a set of Chronicles of Narnia paperbacks to give to a young reader one day, someone with wide eyes who will appreciate them the way I did at their age.
Our love of portal stories have built modern franchises like Stargate into powerhouse blockbusters with multiple spin-offs. No modern sci-fi/fantasy series is complete without some kind of portal episode or storyline. Star Trek did it. Doctor Who is a portal story in every episode.
There are several variations and versions of portal fiction. I mentioned Isekai already, but you could also consider portal fiction any story with parallel realities (The Golden Compass), inter-dimensional rifts (Fringe), magical travel to another world (Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz), or wormholes (Stargate).
The only qualifier I have for a portal fiction is that the portal or method of transportation must be a central element of the story. The rest is up to the writer—the more original and outlandish, the better.
Indie published portal fiction
New portal fiction is being published every year by the big trade houses—if the book has “door” in the title, it’s a dead giveaway!—but also in the indie publishing space. Because of my own love of the genre (not to mention the portal fiction books I’ve written), I am constantly coming across new takes on the portal story tradition.
So from one fan to another, here’s a big ‘ol list of indie published portal fiction, described by the authors in their own words. Each of these stories has some kind of portal, doorway, or travel to another world in it, and I asked each author to write up a short description.
If you read one of these books, be sure to return and let me know what you liked best about it.
I’ll keep adding to the list as I find more portal stories, so maybe by the time you come back, this list will have grown.
Leave a comment below if you have a suggestion or addition.
Portal fiction reading list: science fiction
The Auriga Project by M.G. Herron
In a very public disaster, archaeologist Eliana Fisk is transported to a new world where a lost tribe of ancient Mayans want to sacrifice her to their gods. All she wants is to get back home. To be reunited with her husband, Amon.
But it’s his fault she’s stranded… and since Amon’s enemies are trying to shut the project down, he’ll have to risk everything to find his wife before she’s lost forever.
Webley and the World Machine by Zachary Chopchinski
Join the adventure as best friends Adal and Arija fight their way through portals with zombies, plagues, and countless battles. Each new world they visit comes with deadly challenges and unforeseen risks. Yet nothing they’ve faced can prepare them for the darkness rising.
Orphan Wars by Scott Moon and JN Chaney
In an Orphan Wars, a lunar archaeologist discovers an ancient device. Corporate treachery causes it to be activated without safety considerations, and the archaeologist is thrust into another part of the galaxy where war and treachery rule.
City of Slaves by Abby Goldsmith
In a galactic empire where everyone is networked together for instant communication, there’s no privacy. No secrets. No way to escape.
Thomas was orphaned on the backwater planet Earth and raised by ”primitive” humans, so when he’s abducted and transported to the Torth Majority, he’s forced to conform. He likes the gifts they give: Slaves, and a hoverchair, and all kinds of advanced alien technology. But when Thomas’s foster family and friends get thrown into an alien slave ghetto, he walks a fine line between conformity and seething rage.
He’s about to become the biggest problem the Torth Majority have ever faced….
Maelstrom by Peter Cawdron
Maelstrom deals with the idea that our cultural oddities like the Tunguska event, Roswell, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Mary Celeste, etc, are the result of colliding worlds. Portals open briefly, connecting these worlds and resulting in chaos.
The Other by Marilyn Peake
The portals have opened. People have started seeing UFOs and strange, alien-looking creatures with humanoid shapes, green skin and large black eyes. In places where this is happening, doctors report the spread of a mysterious virus that scrambles people’s thoughts and causes hallucinations. Golden Award eLit Book Awards in the Fantasy / Science Fiction category.
Portal fiction reading list: fantasy
Iain’s Realm Saga by D L Gardner
Ian’s Realm Saga is an adventure fantasy following an unsuspecting teen as he enters a portal to another world and is thrust into conflict with dragon worshipers and becomes engaged in an epic battle between good and evil. A story of a boy abandoned who must learn his weaknesses before he can experience his strengths.
Dragon Badge by Scott Moon
In Dragon Badge, a midwestern city is plagued with hell hounds, demons, and sorcerers. One police officer discovers his link to a parallel reality, and travels through a portal to stop the rift from tearing open between worlds.
Schooled in Magic by Christopher G. Nuttall
Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them. There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …
…and the necromancer is still hunting her. If Emily can’t stop him, he might bring about the end of days.
The Journal of Irene Summerset by Hannah Conrad
A missing professor leads to the discovery of an eight continent, accessible only by portals. Can two teenagers, a werecat, and a pony find her? And can they get back home?
Unicorn Magic by Roz Marshall
In Feyland, the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred…Playing the virtual reality game Feyland wasn’t supposed to turn out so – uh, real. But when things from the game start appearing in everyday life – like a unicorn, or Elphin, the strange creature who saved her life and became her friend – Scots teenager Corinne MacArthur has a problem. Of epic proportions.
Falling Through the Weaving by Leia Talon
For fans of Outlander and The Time Traveler’s Wife: A time-traveling musician breaks all her rules for three men who share the same soul, and plunges so far back in time that dragons still exist.
Arcane Gateway by C.L. Carhart
Should appeal to fans of time travel romance, elemental magic, and a strong protagonist who challenges the patriarchy. Swanie’s hopes for a normal life spiral to the ground when she uncovers a mysterious relic that thrusts her down darker paths than she ever thought possible.
The Desert Wall by Raf Morgan
No one else sees the endless Wall that stretches across the desert, and when Melanie is in the shadow of its magic, she becomes invisible. But when a stranger comes to town and abducts her papa, Malenie learns that the Wall holds even more secrets. To save her Papa she will need to get in touch with her ancestral magic, find new friends and confront a deadly villain.
Masters of the Elements by CC Sullivan
A deadly ancient secret. Six friends with an unbreakable bond. An extraordinary revelation.
Lena is a university student living a quiet life filled with its usual challenges. After an innocent visit to Michelangelo’s Statue of David, her life is upended when she experiences hallucinatory dreams involving the young model posing for the statue. At least that’s what she thinks they are.
In this astonishing journey, from modern-day Florence to the Renaissance era, Lena and her friends are thrust into the unknown where nothing is as it seems.
Chaos Looming by H.B. Reneau
Keira Altman, the newest Legionnaire, has spent years perfecting the art of wielding pneuma and channeling order out of chaos. Ripped from her own world and into one she barely understands, the only thing Keira knows for certain is that she has a purpose.
Now, if only she knew what it was.
Escaping Demons by Killian Wolf
Demons and nurses don’t normally meet. Unless it’s inside Paradise House. The only way to survive? The forbidden library full of spellbooks and a portal to the otherside. Follow Addison Brooke to the astral dimension where reapers and demons fight for dominion.
Escaping Demons by David Baxter
College student Nate Keller is transported to another world where he becomes the target of deadly zealots who serve powerful malevolent gods. He will need to overcome his fears, make allies, and learn new skills to stop a plot that could plunge an entire world into war.
The Dungeon Alaria by Joshua Kern
Liam always thought his mother died in an accident when he was a child. He was wrong.
Join Liam in the adventure of his life as he and his house are pulled into a brand-new world. He doesn’t speak the language or understand why the locals keep trying to attack his front door. But hey, at least the fridge now comes with an infinite supply of orange juice.
Escaping Demons by David Baxter
An island’s sacred tree hides a portal to an underground world full of mystical energies –and the shocking truth that local superstitions are much more than just myths!
When Talin, a bullied outcast, unexpectedly plunges into the portal and is chosen to fill the long-vacant role of island Healer, the reluctant teen must make a difficult decision: accept his destiny or let the power that comes with it fall into the evil hands of his rival who believes he is the next Healer.
Spell Struck by Shelley Russell Nolan
When Merry inherits a bookshop from a grandmother she never knew existed, the last thing she expected was to be transported to another world. But while claiming her inheritance, she accidentally triggers a spell that takes her to Tirana; a world where magic is real, and where her grandmother left behind powerful enemies.
Portal fiction reading list: science fantasy (SF/F mashup)
The Chemical Mage by Felix R. Savage
What do these things have in common?
- An alien invasion
- Card tricks
- Electrically powered portals
- Lots of booze
- Kuiper Belt Objects
- Weaponized ship drives
- Karate Ghosts
- The Loch Ness Monster
If you guessed that they’re all in the Extinction Protocol series by Felix R. Savage, congratulations! Once you start reading this twisty, fast-paced sci-fi action series, you can’t stop.
Watchman’s Quest by Craig Askham
A Westworld/Game of Thrones-style mash-up, where Earth’s wealthiest pay The Stillwater Project for the opportunity to live out their fantasies on a medieval planet that’s ‘somewhere’ the other side of the universe.
But spare a thought for the employees of The Stillwater Project, who have to keep these portal tourists in check once the ale starts flowing. Oh, and for the ‘locals’ of the medieval planet, too, because they have absolutely no idea their world is being treated as a playground by these violent (and often horny) aliens…
Few Are Chosen by M. T. McGuire
A man called by destiny. The wrong man.
All The Pan of Hamgee wants is a quiet life. So why did he have to fall in love with a woman living a different version of reality, upset a murderous tyrant and then run out of places to hide? Now all he has to do is face his inner demons, rescue everything he holds dear and save the world, or die trying.
Oh yes, and he’s an abject coward. Great. No pressure then.
Artwork credit: Portal gateway concept art by Alexander Duder.