If you like sci-fi movies, chances are you like sci-fi books too. I certainly do. And of course, an easy way to match your on-screen entertainment to your on-page entertainment is to search for adaptations. Sure, the book is often better, but sometimes a story works brilliantly in both mediums. by Ridley Scott The Martian is an equal match for Andy Weir’s novel. And I’ll be honest, I hadn’t read Frank Herbert’s Dunes before seeing Denis Villeneuve’s recent adaptation, but the film version finally gave me the boost I needed to immerse myself in the original.
But sometimes I want a similar story or trope without the inevitable baggage of comparison that comes with adaptations. If, like me, you like to coordinate your reading and movie choices, here are five book recommendations based on their parallels to popular sci-fi movies. They may have less overlap than a direct adaptation, but the themes, settings, and storylines that tie these pairings together resonate in interesting ways (and are fantastic on their own)!
Back to the future + here and now and then by Mike Chen
The 1985 sci-fi classic Back to the future is one of the best films of all time. Just in case you haven’t seen it yet (seriously, fix that now), it’s about teenager Marty McFly traveling 30 years back in time in a DeLorean invented by his friend and mentor, eccentric scientist Doc Brown. . It’s the perfect mix of time adventure and comedy with a dash of romance. Plus, it includes a cool car and an adorable dog called Einstein.
here and now and then by Mike Chen features many elements that make Back to the future so fantastic but with its own unique twist. The book follows Kin Stewart, a time-traveling secret agent from the future who doesn’t really remember his past. A botched mission stranded Kin in 1990s San Francisco, and for the 18 years since he built a normal life with his wife and daughter. But then a rescue team arrives to take him back to 2142, where he’s only been gone a few weeks and a family he doesn’t remember is waiting for him. Not only is Kin torn between two eras and two families, but his daughter’s existence is in danger.
At their core, both of these time travel stories are family-centric. The ramifications and pervasive dangers of changing the past are certainly there, but both Robert Zemeckis’ film and Chen’s novel are grounded in a focus on a few key characters. As the Avengers use time travel in End of Game In order to save half the world, Marty and Kin focus on rescuing the people most important to them. Both stories use sci-fi concepts as a way to explore the complexities of family and identity. (And Chen’s novel even has a dog to match Einstein in the furry form of Bamford, a rescue greyhound.)
love and monsters + A boy and his dog at the end of the world by CA Fletcher
love and monsters is a take on the classic tale “a child goes on an adventure with his dog”, but takes place in a world where all cold-blooded animals have mutated into large and dangerous monsters. Protagonist Joel has been living underground with a group of other survivors for seven years. Although he lacks the skills to kill monsters, Joel decides to venture across the country in the name of love with a very good dog named Boy.
CA Fletcher A boy and his dog at the end of the world also takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and includes canine secondary characters. It is set many years after an event called the gelding left most people infertile, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the world’s population. Teenager Griz lives on an island with his family and his loyal dogs, Jess and Jip. There are few other people left to interact with, but one day a stranger arrives and steals Jess. With Jip by his side, Griz roams the nearly empty ruins of the continent on a rescue mission.
Both tales are set in captivating post-apocalyptic settings that provide fun adventure and thrills. Each story focuses on a protected character who finds himself through his exploration of an unfamiliar landscape. love and monsters strikes a lighter tone with its imaginative mutated creatures, while Fletcher’s near-empty world evokes a haunting melancholic feeling. And perhaps best of all, both stories capture the importance of human-canine relationships – even after the end of the world as we know it, we humans still love our dogs.
Extraterrestrial + Cries of the void by Anne Tibbets
Extraterrestrial is the quintessential sci-fi horror film. He follows the small crew of the Nostromo, a commercial tow spacecraft, as they encounter an aggressive and deadly alien lifeform that takes them down one by one. Director Ridley Scott deftly merges the sci-fi and horror genres, creating a film that is both otherworldly in its setting and genuinely chilling with its scares.
Cries of the void is clearly indebted to Extraterrestrial and its xenomorphs. It also focuses on a small crew aboard a spaceship, this time called the Demeter. They are tasked with collecting botanical life from alien planets (I’m sure you can see where this is going). A dangerous creature sneaks aboard and begins to systematically kill the crew. Mechanical Ensign Reina must deal with not only the carnage inflicted by the aliens, but also her abusive ex-boyfriend who is trapped on board with her.
Tibbets clearly reflects the spaceship setting and the violent alien threat of Extraterrestrial in his novel, but his attacker is a unique creation. The stories also have parallels that go beyond those obvious connection points. For example, both tales feature people making foolish choices that lead to deadly consequences, but both also have less obvious horrors that lurk beneath the slaughter, especially the horrors that humans can inflict on each other. . In Extraterrestrial, this comes with the realization that the Weyland-Yutani Corporation views the lives of the crew as disposable. In Cries of the voidwe are forced to reckon with Reina’s experiences in an abusive relationship revealed through flashbacks.
color out of space + The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
by Richard Stanley color out of space is an adaptation of the short story of the same name by HP Lovecraft. A meteorite lands in the front yard of the Gardner family farmhouse, and we follow the aftermath as things take a strange turn. An unimaginable alien life form begins to drive the family mad and turn their bodies into grotesque amalgams. The film is set in the style of a pulpy 1950s B-movie, but with some truly horrifying Lovecraftian visuals, and at the center of the mayhem is Nicolas Cage’s typically flamboyant overaction.
While you can just read the original short story, if you’re looking for a more contemporary twist on Lovecraft, pick up Victor LaValle’s. The Ballad of Black Tom. This short story is a retelling of Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” from the perspective of a black man in 1920s Harlem. It follows hustler Tommy Tester as he is hired by reclusive millionaire Robert Suydam for a scheme involving ancient cosmic entities and eldritch abominations.
Both stories use cosmic horror to unsettling effect, but color out of space delves into the genre’s crazy pulp, while LaValle’s short story takes on a more serious and thoughtful tone. It confronts the bigotry and prejudice that characterize Lovecraft’s work by using the experiences of a black protagonist to explore issues of racism in America, weaving this social commentary into a gripping story of mysterious forbidden knowledge and terrifying space monsters. color out of space and The Ballad of Black Tom both provide a healthy dose of Lovecraftian weirdness, but in very different, yet equally satisfying styles.
the abyss + In the depths of drowning by Mira Grant
Between the realization aliens and Terminator 2James Cameron dived to the bottom of the ocean in the abyss. The film centers on a team of divers who must team up with workers from an underwater drilling rig to search for the wreckage of a nuclear submarine that sank near the Cayman Trench in the Caribbean Sea. Underwater dangers abound, and the team comes face-to-face (literally) with an alien aquatic species.
Although not about extraterrestrials, Mira Grant’s In the depths of drowning features underwater creatures in the form of killer mermaids. A film crew sails to the Mariana Trench to shoot a mockumentary about mermaids, but something goes wrong and everyone disappears. Leaked footage shows everyone being slaughtered by mermaids, but most people believe it to be a hoax. However, Tory, a sonar specialist and sister to one of the missing crew members, is determined to find out the truth. She joins a team of highly specialized scientists investigating the maritime tragedy…but they may be in over their heads.
While the creatures that lurk in the depths of the ocean in Cameron’s film and Grant’s book are very different, with the aliens being benevolent and the mermaids decidedly malevolent, both stories inspire fear of the sea. their shared aquatic parameters, the abyss and In the depths of drowning also associate well due to their exploration of complicated relationships. Both tales feature an array of characters who clash in the isolated, high-pressure environment – both stories even have an estranged married couple who are forced to come to terms with their difficult history as unforeseen events unfold in the brackish depths.
Can you think of any other books that pair well with these movies or vice versa? Let me know of any other potential book/movie combos in the comments, because I’d love to read and watch them…
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and loves all things sci-fi and horror. She lives in Scotland with her rescue greyhound, Misty.