Sci-fi can be intimidating. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. There’s a whole set of rules to the genre and a new vocabulary to keep up with. On top of that, sometimes sci-fi can feel unwelcoming to the uninitiated. Where do you even start? Don’t worry, I, a very casual reader of sci-fi, am here to guide you. I read sci-fi the same way I watch it — infrequently and usually with popcorn.
Science fiction does not have to be all battle sequences and triangulating flight paths. The beauty of speculative fiction, which is the umbrella that sci-fi resides under, is that there is room for the fantastic, and for questioning the mundane.
Sci-fi, like most fiction genres, goes through trends. While this does mean that older sci-fi can feel extremely outdated in terms of values and even technology, it does mean that there’s an abundance of different sub-genres of sci-fi to choose from now. Even if you decide that space operas and hard sci-fi are not for you, there are still space westerns, dystopian worlds, and first-contact novels for you to check out. My best tip for finding a sci-fi book you’ll actually like is to try looking at your favorite genres for a sci-fi twist like time travel, aliens, or space travel. Ready for more? Let’s go!
Sci-Fi Books for Readers Who Don’t like Sci-Fi
The Humans by Matt Haig
The Humans tells the story of an alien visitor to Earth. Assigned to the life and body of Professor Andrew Martin, the visitor is tasked with observing humans and taking his findings back to his utopian home planet. At first disgusted by humans, the visitor soon finds himself bonding with his “family” and his feelings towards humanity softening. Delightful and surprisingly uplifting, this book is an easy read.
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Inside a protected eco-city, STEM prodigy Kasey uses everything available to her to look for her missing sister. No one knows what happened to her. Far away, Cee has spent the last three years trying to escape a deserted island. While Kasey retraces her sister’s last steps, Cee prepares to take her first steps off the island. This YA novel is dreamy and emotional.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
What happens when the board game Clue is combined with time loops and an extremely unreliable narrator? This mishmash of a locked door murder mystery with sci-fi vibes. During a stay at Blackheath Manor, Aiden Bishop is assigned to finding the killer of another guest, Evelyn Hardcastle. Bishop wakes up to repeat the same day over and over again, in a new body each turn. Better keep a spreadsheet for this one!
Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams
Pearl is an expert at making people happy — it’s her job. Every day, she provides different people ways they can make their lives happier. The one person Pearl doesn’t know how to make happy is her son Rhett. Technology’s quick fixes don’t have all the answers and neither do all the people in Pearl and Rhett’s lives, who tell the story.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
During a deadly flu pandemic, Frank and Polly are faced with an impossible decision. Polly agrees to take on a dangerous task as an indentured laborer in order to get Frank the treatment he needs. Her contract will send her 12 years into the future, without status, money, or a home. When Polly is flung five extra years ahead, she must find Frank on her own to see if what their love can endure through time.
Not A Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
Lynn and her mother spend their days with their eyes on the pond, watching for wolves and strangers alike. Lynn is willing to protect the water with her life. When others seek help from Lynn, she has to decide whether their survival can be part of her plan, too. Gritty and atmospheric, this novel is an unflinching peek into the near future.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
In his male-only town, Todd is only a month away from adulthood. Every man in town can hear each other’s thoughts — there’s no escape from the Noise. When Todd runs away from home, he stumbles across a crash site and a girl, Viola. Together, Viola and Todd decide to make sense of their crumbling worldview. Gritty and transformative, the Chaos Walking Series is worth reading in one go.
I’m Waiting for You by Bo-Young Kim, Translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu
Dip your toes into sci-fi with this Korean short story collection. In the first two stories, an engaged couple works in separate missions, hoping to complete their tasks before their wedding. Their wedding date continues to be pushed back by challenges. The next two stories view Earth from the perspective of godlike creators. Kim ponders questions of free will, humanity, hope, and love in this compact collection.
The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The first in a trilogy, this novel is a crowd favorite for its ragtag cast of friendly weirdos, big feels, and soaring sci-fi aesthetics without intimidating technical language. If you’re not big on long space operas, this series is perfect for you as each book follows a different storyline and character within the same universe. Chambers writes with a cheerful, welcoming tone that’s perfect for new sci-fi readers.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, Translated by Stephen Synder
Far away, on an unnamed island, things have begun to disappear. Innocuous items at first, like ribbons, but soon, animals and concepts begin to disappear. A novelist clings to everything she knows and remembers. Vowing to save what she can, she and her editor come up with a plan when they learn the memory police is coming for him. This book feels at once like a historical novel and a dream you can’t quite remember.
We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
The Pilot is a brain-implant device meant to improve concentration and multitasking. Val and Julie’s son, David, asks for a Pilot for school purposes. Everyone has one. Everyone except Sophie, who can’t get a Pilot for medical reasons. As Pilots become more commonplace, Sophie’s suspicions grow and family tensions rise. This slow-burn novel is an exploration of emotion and relation to technology.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
Mix it up with this collection of short stories of folklore and urban legend inspiration. Yap blends science fiction with fantasy and magical realism. Nostalgic, yet fresh, these stories feature timeless concepts and complex, diverse characters.
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Airship cabin boy Matt Cruse dreams of being exploring the skies and discovering new places. Instead, he’s stuck looking after rich people as he ferries them from city to city. After a famous balloonist tells Matt about extraordinary creatures, Matt is determined to find the creatures for himself. With the help of the balloonist’s granddaughter, Kate, and their combined skills, Matt is ready to take on the skies. Airborn is the first in the Matt Cruse Trilogy.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
This on is technically a romance with sci-fi elements, and it’s so good. After moving to New York City, August has her expectations for life and love set on low. August’s daily subway commute becomes more than routine when she notices Jane, a mysterious girl with actual cassette tapes, taking the same train every day. Jane’s not just on the same train; she’s stuck in a time loop from the 1970s! Can Jane and August find a space for themselves, or is it too late?
The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong
Imaginative and dark, this novel is centered around Jes, a mixed-species fugitive just trying to live his life. Jes makes his way to the pleasure moon, finding work at a circus. As Jes gets closer to his equally outcast circus colleagues, his life is soon in danger again.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Brilliant scientist Evelyn Caldwell is at the top of her game, when her husband, Nathan reveals that he is leaving her for Martine. Using Evelyn’s research, Nathan cloned Evelyn, making her more pliable and created Martine. When Nathan turns up dead, Martine turns to Evelyn for help. Messy and dystopian, this book is a clever ride.
Long Division by Kiese Laymon
After an upset on national TV, Citoyen “City” Coldson is an overnight celebrity. City goes to stay with his grandmother in coastal Mississippi. He is given a book set in 1985 that features another City Coldson. As City reads, he finds that the book might hold both the answers and the questions. Thoroughly engrossing, Long Division is a Southern Gothic work of sci-fi.
This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Two time travel rival agents, working against each other, begin a correspondence. As complications arise, the two agents fall deeper in love. Lyrical and impossible, this time travel novella promises a bit of heartache.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Meet 13 year-old Min. She is from a long line of fox spirits, but is forced to remain in human form at all times. Min longs to escape Jinju, her home planet, in favor of exploring the Thousand Worlds. When Min’s brother, Jun is in trouble, it’s up to Min to find him, even if that means using her forbidden fox powers. Lee weaves Korean folklore with space exploration to create a thrilling journey that’s captivating from start to finish.
Goldilocks by Laura Lam
Valerie Black gathers an all-woman crew to head to the Goldlilocks zone, where conditions are just right for humans. Earth’s ecosystem is collapsing and women’s rights have been obliterated. There’s no better time for this mission, except that it’s illegal and someone on board is harboring a secret. Dark and immersive, this sci-fi thriller will keep you guessing.