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

The Books I Picked & Why

The Time Traveler's Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger

Book cover of The Time Traveler's Wife

Why 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.

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The Midnight Library

By Matt Haig

Book cover of The Midnight Library

Why 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.

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Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover of Never Let Me Go

Why 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. 

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The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why 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.

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By Susanna Clarke

Book cover of Piranesi

Why 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.

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