8 Nonfiction Books That SFF Fans Will Love

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Eileen Gonzalez

Contributing Editor
Eileen's primary literary love is comic books, but she’s always on the lookout for her next literary adventure no matter what form it takes. She has a Bachelor's in media studies, a Master's in digital communication, a smattering of published short stories, and a seriously cute dog. Follow her on .

There’s a whole lot to love about science fiction and fantasy (SFF): fabulous world-building, epic adventures, fantastical creatures, awe-inspiring technology. Surely no nonfiction title could live up to the excitement that a good SFF book can deliver?As a devoted nonfiction reader, I can assure you that is not true! Nonfiction can weave a tale just as irresistible as anything that sprang from a fiction writer’s imagination. A skillful nonfiction author uses the same methods that make fiction so entertaining and applies them to events that happen in real life. And, in some cases, nonfiction books can also shed light on plot points or devices you see in sci-fi and fantasy or on the authors themselves, giving you a better appreciation of their work.

This list features eight nonfiction titles that will interest SFF fans in different ways. No matter which one you choose to dive into first, it is sure to satisfy your need for larger-than-life adventurers and fantastic quests that are far out of the ordinary. You’ll get to travel to places that are inaccessible to most readers, and you’ll even get to see how common SFF tropes bring life to other genres. It’s a great reminder that literary categories are neither discrete nor set in stone—that’s part of the magic of reading.

by Anna Della Subin

An unfortunate and outdated trope you sometimes see in SFF is the white savior: a white person who discovers and is inevitably revered by “inferior” Native peoples, who require the savior’s protection against myriad threats. Accidental Gods is a breathtaking yet respectful exploration of how certain men (always men) were, at various times and for various reasons, regarded as divine entities.

by Stephen McGinty

In this underwater thriller, two men are trapped in a nonfunctional submarine at the bottom of the ocean. Those on the surface must race against time—and the men’s dwindling oxygen supply—to do the impossible and bring them home safely. If you like suspenseful sci-fi tales where people are menaced by inhospitable environments, this is the nonfiction book for you. (J.R.R. Tolkien also gets a brief mention toward the end, for you LOTR fans!)

by E. Patrick Johnson

This book is so much more than just a valuable and illuminating oral history of Black Southern queer women’s experiences. Its framing device is nothing short of fantastical. The author is whisked away to Hymen, a hive-like realm inhabited by queer women, in order to immortalize their stories. Guided by the irascible Miss B., a fearless trickster, “Dr. EPJ” goes on a quest to uncover the lives of these marginalized yet resilient women.

by Michio Kaku

Many sci-fi stories imagine what the world might look like decades, centuries, or even millennia from today. Kaku’s book does the same but from a scientific perspective. Extrapolating from current knowledge and technology, he paints a fascinating picture of what developments seem likely to unfold between now and the end of the 21st century. Are his predictions accurate? Only time will tell!

by Candice Millard

Space explorers are the inheritors of the grand yet deeply troubled tradition of risking it all to explore strange new worlds and expand their home country’s knowledge of the larger universe. This exciting book recounts the story of two 19th-century white Englishmen who each scrambled to be the first to find the source of the Nile. The book gives due credit to the Black African explorers without whom this great discovery would not have been possible.

by Mary Roach

Ghosts and the afterlife are a mainstay of fantasy, but just how true are these fictional depictions of the door that we must all walk through? Roach does her best to answer the unanswerable with help from experts in various fields. Even though she doesn’t find any concrete solutions, take heart: we will all find the answer to this mystery for ourselves sooner or later.

by Adam Hochschild

Before George Orwell became one of the 20th century’s best-known sci-fi writers, he fought and was injured in the Spanish Civil War. This was, in some ways, treated like a dress rehearsal for the violence and hateful ideologies that would be on full display in World War II. Intertwining Orwell’s experiences with those of many others, this book examines the war that helped cement the antifascist views that Orwell would later explore so memorably in his fiction.

by Hiromi Ito, Trans. by Jeffrey Angles

Finally, this memoir incorporates fantasy-like elements and frequent discussion of Japanese spiritual beliefs and practices, which is great if you enjoy SFF that takes inspiration from real-world religions. The author uses these narrative devices to explore the physical and emotional difficulties of caring for her aging parents in one country while living in another.

Want some actual SFF recs to go along with the thematically appropriate nonfiction? Check out these underrated sci-fi gems, or this list of books featuring dragons!

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