Books like Sphere, Lexicon, and The Rook - SFF set in our world

What do all these books have in common? They’re science-fiction-y/fantasy-type books set in this world.

I’m realizing I’m INTO these. I like Under the Dome, Michael Koryta’s The Cypress House, Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook, Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers, China Mieville’s The City & The City and Kraken, and lots more.

Stephen King’s Firestarter is like the granddaddy of my heart, too. Best.

These fall into lots of other buckets, too, but the main thing I like about them is that they’re not on other planets, in other times, or what have you; they’re people in our world dealing with crazy shit.

(I get the sense there’s a lot of Young Adult fiction devoted to this topic…I’m not opposed to YA, I just like stuff written for adults. I thought The Hunger Games was great, but it doesn’t really belong on this list.)

Got any books that might fall under this (admittedly hard-to-define) umbrella?

I loved Sphere, but I’d say most other Sci-Fi Crichton falls into this category?

You may like the more recent William Gibson books too. Although I think they’re like 90 percent real and 10 percent Sci-Fi. Pattern Recognition is my favorite of the most recent trilogy.

Does it matter if its somewhat world changing? or, like Sphere where ‘everything is back to normal’ for a majority of humanity?

Anyway, if world changing is okay, some of Robert Charles Wilson’s work is what springs to mind for me first. Spin (but not the sequels), The Chronoliths and Blind Lake (though that one is debatable too).

Check out Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. On the fantasy side, American Gods and Anansi Boys by Gaiman. Sandman Slim wasn’t bad either, for a gritty pulpy fantasy book. Most of Christopher Moore’s books are comedy/fantasy set int he present day. John Dies at the End as well. Year Zero by Rob Reid is a fun kindof Hitchhikers like book that takes place mostly in present day earth, but does hit the alien planets too.

Wow, awesome, guys, thanks! I’ve read Angelmaker and loved it, though Spin didn’t grab me. I’ll check out some of Wilson’s other stuff and see if it does. Thanks, fellow readers!

Have you read Harkaway’s first book, The Gone Away World? Sort of a sci-fi/fantasy/post-apocalypse set in the near future. I loved Angelmaker, but love The Gone Away World even more.

If you liked Jumper, try Gould’s WildSide. Varley’s Red Thunder series is okay, though it has a pretty hefty MacGuffin holding it together. Oh, The Breach! Definitely pick that up, it’s a ton of fun. The sequels aren’t quite as good, but the first book is awesome. It’s exactly what you’re after.

The Night Watch series (4 books) by Lukyanenko. They’re very, very Russian, but the translations read very well.

It used to be called the “Twilight” series until , well, you know.

Edit: Hey! A new one came out so there’s 5 now! Woohoo! Can’t wait for it to be released in english!

Yeah, the Breach is definitely fun. The immediate sequel (Ghost Country) starts off awesome in many ways, but starts to seriously suck at the end. The main crisis turns out to be complete tin-foil-hat bullshit, and there’s an incredibly stupid, contrived race against the clock that takes 17+ hours and yet hinges on a split-second photo finish when it resolves. I don’t recall any such problems with the first book, though.

I liked these as well - modern fantasy + lots of bureaucracy.


The Breach is AWESOME. It’s break-fucking-neck. It basically doesn’t slow down. I have to force myself to stop reading every night.

Here’s another suggestion: Lexicon, by Max Barry. I read it in three days flat. The writing and structure a lot more mature and interesting than The Breach, but the plot and themes are similarly badass and intense. It’s also hard as hell to put down.

If you like the Rook, you might also like Charles Stross’ Laundry Series, as well as his Halting State series (thought that’s near-future Scotland).

Also, The Dresden Files.

Room 14 and the Fold by Peter Clines’ are very fun stories. Both take place in the same “our world”.

More or less in order of how much I remember liking them:

  • Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series (book #1 is titled Midnight Riot in the US, same title as series in the UK)
  • Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (book #1)
  • Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series (book #1)
  • Ben H. Winters’ Last Policeman Trilogy series (book #1)
  • Michael Siemsen’s Matt Turner series (book #1)
  • Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series (book #1)
  • Michael Siemsen’s Demon Story series (book #1)

All set in our world pretty much as we know it today, not counting the SFF stuff, and some featuring characters moving to and from other realms, dimensions, etc.

Tried hard to exclude books whose settings were our world until post-apocalyptic events or the like transformed it into something else. (The Winters series is a deliberate exception, because spoilers.)

I probably have more but I’d have to dig deeper into my notes to find them.


I have some more books that fit this thread!

Dean Koontz has a lot of stuff in this vein, and though he’s not a very good writer, the plots completely captured me when I was a teen. Watchers is his classic, and I re-read recently and learned I should have left it in the past. Two other favorites of mine were his Midnight, in which a small town is overtaken by genetically modified monsters from a secret lab, and Dragon Tears, which involves a man with four (4) un-decended testicles developing special powers, a dog that can think, and the Koontzian stalwarts: Decent Policeman and Plucky Female.

Charles Soule’s book Anyone is an identity-is-tricky SF novel split between present day and near future. My thoughts are here, but short version? It’s real good.

I did not like Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig, which has a Stephen King-ish modern day plague/infection, but no real interesting characters and a plot that doesn’t move fast enough.

Upthread is a recommendation for Patrick Lee’s first novel, Breach, which is basically the perfect book for this thread. If you like this stuff and haven’t read that, stop reading this thread and get it now!! The two followups aren’t as strong but if you like the world and characters, they’re good fun. His next book after those is called Runner, and it’s nearly perfect, too. The plot is break fucking neck and is full of scenes and moments that made me exclaim aloud, annoying my wife. The moment where the girl mind controls him not so she can torture him, but so that he has to watch while she makes him torture HER had me sitting forward in my seat and swearing in shock (and delicious appreciation).

One Second After by William Forstchen didn’t work for me. It is apocalypse war-gaming on the community level. An interesting scenario and lots of fascinating little details about how a community would respond to the challenges of total electronic breakdown. None of the characters know why the US has suffered an EMP strike but have to deal with it all the same, there’s bargaining and backstabbing between various communities all dealing with unique challenges of their own, and it’s unique in the Preppers literature in that it’s focused on how a community deals with disaster, not just individuals. But the writing is flat and hacky, the characters merely sketched, the plot beats feel schematic, and that all dragged me down quicker than the story pulled me forward.

Devolution by Max Brooks, author of World War Z: hi-tech utopian group in the PNW gets mauled by Sasquatch. A good scenario let down by bland characters and pretty awful writing.

Oh, perfect recommendation for this thread: Steven Gould. He wrote “Jumper” which made it to a mediocre movie, but most of his books are reality-adjacent Sci-FI. Most have a sub-theme, be it flying, scuba, aikido, etc. but all are great reads. I probably liked Wild Side as much as any.

And, now you’ve just reminded me of his Lost Regiment books (I’m assuming its the same writer). I remember really liking a good number of them so I’ve just ordered Rally Cry. I hope it holds up. Of course, nowhere near the requirements of this thread.

As penance, I’ll offer up King Rat by Mieville, particularly given it was a couple of Mieville books that started the thread. If I’m not mistaken, it’s his first and it shows (a little rough around the edges) but still a very good read.

Seems like the place to mention McCammon’s Swan Song. Its similar to King’s The Stand.

Adding Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame, which I wrote up here. It’s fantasy (alchemy trappings) that takes place in our world, and the writing is pretty good, story enjoyable, and definitely worth a read.