The best ‘sci-fi which doesn’t feel like sci-fi’ books

Why am I passionate about this?

I never set out to be a sci-fi author. I didn’t even realise that my book fell into that genre (or ‘soft sci-fi’ to be more specific) until I’d finished writing it. I think the main reason is because as much as there are sci-fi elements, it’s not really what the story is about. And yet, frustratingly, I know there are so many readers who won’t pick it up simply because it’s sci-fi. It is such a huge umbrella of a category to dismiss – and there are so many incredible books that fall under it, sometimes unexpectedly. Never judge a book by its genre!


I wrote...

The Girl With The Green Eyes

By J M Briscoe,

Book cover of The Girl With The Green Eyes

What is my book about?

Bella is defective. You need to take her back. Nine-year-old Bella D’accourt has always known she was different; she was born into a controversial ‘designer baby’ eugenic programme; difference is in her DNA. Bella has been designed to be exceptionally beautiful, but when she uses her sadistic, manipulative charm to seriously injure another child, her mother brings her back to her creators and demands they "fix her." Thus begins Bella’s new life among scientists and other eugenic Subjects at the mysterious Aspira Research Centre in Cumbria. But an enemy lurks in the shining laboratories set among idyllic mountains; an obsessive, murderous enemy who will, years later, drive Bella into a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across the country.

Long-listed for The Bridport Prize 2020. Part one of Take Her Back trilogy.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Time Traveler's Wife

J M Briscoe Why did I love this book?

This is always the first book which springs to mind when I try to explain the concept of ‘sci-fi which doesn’t feel like sci-fi.' Despite the whole plot hinging on time travel – an unequivocally sci-fi concept – The Time Traveller’s Wife is essentially a love story. I like the way the plot segues between multiple timelines (which feels like it should be confusing but really isn’t) and the real-world challenges faced by the characters. It’s one of those books which sounds like it should be far more complicated than it actually is, which makes it a perfect read for those craving escape, adventure, and a hearty dose of romance.

By Audrey Niffenegger,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked The Time Traveler's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a series on HBO starring Rose Leslie and Theo James!

The iconic time travel love story and mega-bestselling first novel from Audrey Niffenegger is "a soaring celebration of the victory of love over time" (Chicago Tribune).

Henry DeTamble is a dashing, adventurous librarian who is at the mercy of his random time time-traveling abilities. Clare Abshire is an artist whose life moves through a natural sequential course. This is the celebrated and timeless tale of their love. Henry and Clare's passionate affair is built and endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap…


Book cover of The Midnight Library

J M Briscoe Why did I love this book?

Another non-typical sci-fi read, The Midnight Library is a book that everyone seems to be talking about right now. I think one of the reasons why this book became such a hit is because the concept of a personal ‘limbo’ library where each book represents a different life choice is one that speaks to us all. So simple, so clever. I liked the characters, loved the plot, and found it incredibly thought-provoking without being too complicated. But I think the thing I enjoyed the most is the fact that the theme of All The Big Life Questions is so forefront, you almost forget that it’s all anchored in a science fiction concept. It almost feels like sci-fi by stealth.

By Matt Haig,

Why should I read it?

35 authors picked The Midnight Library as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestselling WORLDWIDE phenomenon

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick | Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year

"A feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits."-The Washington Post

The dazzling reader-favorite about the choices that go into a life well lived, from the acclaimed author of How To Stop Time and The Comfort Book.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of…


Book cover of Never Let Me Go

J M Briscoe Why did I love this book?

When it came to categorising my book, I remember Googling the genre for Never Let Me Go and having a bit of a light-bulb moment when it came up as ‘soft sci-fi.' I read this book several years ago and yet it has always stuck with me, particularly the coming-of-age storyline of the characters from children to adults set within an ultimately horrifying reality. There is something so poignantly spine-chilling about a reality where controversial scientific practices are not only sanctioned but have become the norm – it really makes you think about the definition and the deniability of humanity. 

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Never Let Me Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most acclaimed novels of the 21st Century, from the Nobel Prize-winning author

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense…


Book cover of The Hunger Games

J M Briscoe Why did I love this book?

I love The Hunger Games series – both the books and the films, and I also love the fact that due to its popularity it is one of the easiest examples of a fictional world where sci-fi is beside the point. Dystopia, young adult, adventure, romance – in a way, all of these genres take precedence before you think of sci-fi with The Hunger Games. Another aspect that sets the series apart from its genre is the main character herself. In Katniss we have a strong, female protagonist whose charm stems from everything which makes her awkward, relatable, and vulnerable. She’s a very real-world character set in a far-from-real world.

By Suzanne Collins,

Why should I read it?

49 authors picked The Hunger Games as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been close to death before - and survival, for her, is second nature. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever...


Book cover of Piranesi

J M Briscoe Why did I love this book?

Another recent bestseller, Piranesi didn’t, for me, immediately scream sci-fi so much as fantasy, mythology, and magical realism. Without giving away too many spoilers, I like the fact that the fantastical elements of this book start out all-encompassing and are then almost filtered by the journey of the main character as he navigates his reality. The sci-fi aspect stems from the revelation of this reality and so it does almost creep up on you – a book unlike any other and well worth a read.

By Susanna Clarke,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Piranesi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction
A SUNDAY TIMES & NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The spectacular new novel from the bestselling author of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL, 'one of our greatest living authors' NEW YORK MAGAZINE
__________________________________
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has.

In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend,…


You might also like...

Melody and the Pier to Forever: Parts Five and Six

By Shawn Michel De Montaigne,

Book cover of Melody and the Pier to Forever: Parts Five and Six

Shawn Michel De Montaigne

New book alert!

What is my book about?

A young adult and epic fantasy novel that begins an entire series, as yet unfinished, about a young girl named Melody who discovers that the pier she lives near goes on forever—a pier that was destroyed by a hurricane that appeared out of blue skies in mere moments in 1983.

Melody doesn't know it, but a king has been searching for her for more than twenty years—longer than she's been alive. His kingdom is readying for the day when they may return to the world found beyond the end of that very pier, a world cast into darkness by an…

Melody and the Pier to Forever: Parts Five and Six

By Shawn Michel De Montaigne,

What is this book about?

Melody Singleton is a bright 13-year-old girl who loves math, classical music, her mom, her best friend Yaeko, and her dog. To her classmates that makes her a nerd, and they cruelly treat her as such. After being expelled from the advanced algebra class for not paying attention, she meets her new teacher, Mr. Conor, who gives her a very strange homework assignment. You see, she got kicked out because she was distracted by a symbol that the rest of us can't see, a beautiful sigil that, incredibly, Mr. Conor can see too, because it's on the assignment he gave…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in time travel, survival, and cloning?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about time travel, survival, and cloning.

Time Travel Explore 371 books about time travel
Survival Explore 195 books about survival
Cloning Explore 10 books about cloning