Lately at work I’ve been putting together a flyer tentatively titled, “Books to Read If You Like Doctor Who.” (I know, right? My job is awesome.) Unfortunately Google let me down as far as preexisting lists. It’s also limited to adult books that are available in county public libraries. I’ve worked up a usable list following those guidelines, but I also found a lot of other books I want to include that didn’t meet the criteria, so I figured I’d help out any fellow Googlers and just put the big list here. Even if you don’t like Doctor Who itself, this is basically a list of some of my favorite science fiction books, and you don’t have to care a bit about the show to enjoy them!
At any rate, there are any number of directions to go with this. Books set in World War II in England? Books about space invaders? All works involving time travel? Cerebral science fiction like old episodes, or zany space operas like new episodes? Basically I’m going for a balance of tone and content. If a recommendation is inspired by a particular episode I’ll note that, but for the most part these will be science fiction books that I think Doctor Who fans would like, just based on overall trends and themes on the show. I haven’t read many of the official Doctor Who tie-in works, but if I find any that I feel capture the show’s appeal, I’ll list those too.
This will be an ongoing project as I think of new angles and read new books. (I’ve read most of the ones on this list, but not all of them yet.) There’ll be a notification post on the blog if/when any major updates happen. If you have any more recommendations, leave them in the comments!
(Links and description excerpts are from Amazon. I am not currently an Amazon affiliate, and I get no compensation for promoting any of these books. Comments following the descriptions are my own.)
The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
Grad- school dropout Matt Fuller is toiling as a lowly research assistant at MIT when he inadvertently creates a time machine. With a dead-end job and a girlfriend who left him for another man, Matt has nothing to lose in taking a time-machine trip himself… Or so he thinks.
The Androids Dream by John Scalzi
A human diplomat creates an interstellar incident when he kills an alien diplomat in a most…unusual…way. To avoid war, Earth’s government must find an equally unusual object: A type of sheep (“The Android’s Dream”), used in the alien race’s coronation ceremony. But there are others with plans for the sheep as well: Mercenaries employed by the military. Adherents of a secret religion based on the writings of a 21st century science fiction author. And alien races, eager to start a revolution on their home world and a war on Earth.
(Funnily enough, I didn’t really like this book, and yet I recommend it all the time. Scalzi’s work is pretty hit-or-miss with me, but the so-weird-it’s-realistic future in this book is very Whovian.)
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, AND the devastating secret of humankind! Detective Gently’s bill for saving the human race from extinction: NO CHARGE.
(Hitchhiker’s Guide would be a great choice too, but Dirk Gently is underappreciated and was actually based on some Doctor Who scripts that Douglas Adams had already written.)
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
Centuries ago, one small town in Germany disappeared and was never resettled. Tom, a historian, and his theoretical physicist girlfriend Sharon, become interested. By all logic, the town should have survived. What’s so special about Eifelheim? Father Dietrich is the village priest of Eifelheim, in the year 1348, when the Black Death is gathering strength. To his astonishment, Dietrich makes first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star, when their ship crashes in the nearby forest.
(This book can be pretty slow and pedantic in places, but finishing it was SO worth the trouble.)
The God Engines by John Scalzi
Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this — and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from that the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put — and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely…
(This is the Scalzi novella I love. I’ve read it several times and it leaves me dumbstruck every time. It’s very dark, but the futuristic religion is similar to some Doctor Who tropes. It puts me in mind of the episodes “The Satan Pit” and “42,” plus some older episodes like “The Daemons,” one of my personal favorites.)
Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer by Adam Roberts
Jack Glass is the murderer-we know this from the start. Yet as this extraordinary novel unfolds, readers will be astonished to discover how he committed the murders and by the end of the book, their sympathies for the killer will be fully engaged. Riffing on the tropes of crime fiction (the country house murder, the locked room mystery) and imbued with the feel of golden age SF, this is another bravura performance from Roberts. Whatever games he plays with the genre, whatever questions he asks of the reader, Roberts never loses sight of the need to entertain. Filled with wonderfully gruesome moments and liberal doses of sly humor, this novel is built around three gripping HowDunnits that challenge notions of crime, punishment, power, and freedom.
(Okay, so, it’s one of my favorite books. But I think it applies. Like many Doctor Who episodes set in the future, I can really envision how the modern world could evolve into this as humans spread across the sky.)
Kirinyaga by Michael Resnick
By the twentieth second century in the African nation of Kenya, polluted cities sprawl up the flanks of sacred Mount Kirinyaga. Great animal herds are but distant memories. European crops now grow on the sweeping savannas. But Koriba, a distinguished, educated man of Kikuyu ancestry, knows that life was different for his people centuries ago–and he is determined to build a utopian colony, not on earth, but on the terraformed planetoid he proudly names Kirinyaga. As the mundumugu–witch doctor–Koriba leads the colonists. Reinstating the ancient customs and stringent laws of the Kikuyu people, he alone decides their fate.
(I read this for a class on Science Fiction and Politics last semester and had mixed feelings about it, but none of the first three doctors would be out of place materializing on this planet.)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s intent was simple: to write a short story. What he ended up with instead was The Ocean at the of the Lane. Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman’s magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended as we see what getting between ancient, mystic forces can cost, as well as what can be gained from the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating tale that is equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky.
The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson
In the year 2042, Sierra Waters, a young graduate student in Classics, is shown a new dialog of Socrates, recently discovered, in which a time traveler tries to argue that Socrates might escape death by travel to the future! Thomas, the elderly scholar who has shown her the document, disappears, and Sierra immediately begins to track down the provenance of the manuscript with the help of her classical scholar boyfriend, Max. The trail leads her to time machines in gentlemen’s clubs in London and in New York, and into the past–and to a time traveler from the future, posing as Heron of Alexandria in 150 AD. Complications, mysteries, travels, and time loops proliferate as Sierra tries to discern who is planning to save the greatest philosopher in human history. Fascinating historical characters from Alcibiades to William Henry Appleton, the great nineteenth-century American publisher, to Hypatia, Plato, and Socrates himself appear.
(I love how the timestream is cohesive, not chopped into “the past” and “the future.” All the characters feel real and it uses historical figures much like New Who does. It’s like actually getting to meet Socrates.)
Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars by Greg Cox
1974 A.D. An international consortium of the world’s top scientists have conspired to create the Chrysalis Project, a top-secret experiment in human genetic engineering. The project’s goal is nothing less than the creation of a new, artificially improved breed of men and women: smarter, faster, stronger than ordinary human beings, a super-race to take command of the entire planet. Gary Seven, an undercover operative for an advanced alien species, is alarmed by the project’s objectives; he knows too well the apocalyptic consequences of genetic manipulation. With his trusted agents, Roberta Lincoln and the mysterious Isis, he will risk life and limb to uncover Chrysalis’ insidious designs and neutralize the awesome threat that the Project poses to the future. But he may already be too late. One generation of super-humans has already been conceived. As the years go by, Seven watches with growing concern as the children of Chrysalis — in particular, a brilliant youth named Khan Noonien Singh — grow to adulthood. Can Khan’s dark destiny be averted — or is Earth doomed to fight a global battle for supremacy?
(“But wait!” you say. “Isn’t this a DOCTOR WHO list?” Yes, it is. But if you like Doctor Who and you’re even passingly familiar with Star Trek, I recommend this book duo. It features one of my favorite characters from Star Trek — Gary Seven, a perfectly-evolved human sent to Earth by advanced aliens to shepherd humanity through the tumultuous Cold War years. Also note this is the Ricardo Montalban version of Khan, not the Benedict Cumberbatch one.)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
The classic time travel novella that remains one of the cornerstones of science fiction literature. A Victorian scientist develops a time machine and travels to the year 802,171 AD. There he finds the meek, child-like Eloi who live in fear of the underground-dwelling Morlocks. When his time machine goes missing, the Traveler faces a fight to enter the Morlocks’ domain and return to his own time.
(Yeah, there would basically be no time travel without this book, and it’s also a super awesome story. May I recommend the audio drama read by Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie?)
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
In Russia, the year is 1946 and with the Nazis recently defeated, Stalin gathers half a dozen of the top Soviet science fiction authors in a dacha in the countryside. Convinced that the defeat of America is only a few years away-and equally convinced that the Soviet Union needs a massive external threat to hold it together-Stalin orders the writers to compose a massively detailed and highly believable story about an alien race poised to invade the earth. The little group of writers gets down to the task and spends months working until new orders come from Moscow to immediately halt the project. The scientists obey and live their lives until, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the survivors gather again, because something strange has happened: the story they invented in 1946 is starting to come true.
How to Build a Time Machine by Paul Davies
Davies explains the theoretical physics that make visiting the future and revisiting the past possible, then proceeds to lay out a four-stage process for assembling a time machine and making it work. Wildly inventive and theoretically sound, How to Build a Time Machine is creative science at its best-illuminating, entertaining, and thought provoking.
(This is actually the main reference for the time travel in my work-in-progress.)
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel by Michio Kaku
Teleportation, time machines, force fields, and interstellar space ships-the stuff of science fiction or potentially attainable future technologies? Renowned theoretical physicist and bestselling author Michio Kaku takes an informed, serious, and often surprising look at what our current understanding of the universe’s physical laws may permit in the near and distant future.
Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney
Called a madman by his enemies, a genius by others, and an enigma by nearly everyone, Nikola Tesla was, without a doubt, a trailblazing inventor who created astonishing, sometimes world-transforming devices that were virtually without theoretical precedent. Tesla not only discovered the rotating magnetic field — the basis of most alternating-current machinery — but also introduced us to the fundamentals of robotics, computers, and missile science. Almost supernaturally gifted, unfailingly flamboyant and neurotic, Tesla was troubled by an array of compulsions and phobias and was fond of extravagant, visionary experimentations.
(This is a biography, but it reads like sci-fi. Sometimes truth is really stranger than fiction.)
Young Adult/Children’s Books
Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville
Sixth-grader Ron Allbright can’t tell a lie, so when his teacher asks him why his math homework looks like Swiss cheese, he tells the unbelievable truth: an alien ate it. Who would credit such stuff? Nobody–except class bully Billy Becker, actually an alien criminal sought by the members of the Galactic Patrol whose spaceship has crashed through Ron’s bedroom window.
(I’ve probably read this book a bajillion times – actually the whole series.)
Interstellar Pig by William Sleator
Barney is all set to spend two weeks doing nothing at his parents summer house. But then he meets the neighbors, and things start to get interesting. Zena, Manny, and Joe are not your average folks on vacation. In fact, Barney suspects they’re not from Earth at all. Not only are they physically perfect in every way, but they don’t seem to have jobs or permanent addresses, and they are addicted to a strange role-playing game called Interstellar Pig. As Barney finds himself sucked into their bizarre obsession, he begins to wonder if Interstellar Pig is just a game.
(Yeah, I’ve read this one a bajillion times too. Don’t bother with the sequel.)
Guardians of the Galaxy
The movie is coming out soon, so I expect there’s some interest in this team already, and if you like weird space hijinx and unique, energetic characters, this is the series for you. Here’s the order to read Guardians of the Galaxy: You want to start with Annihilation (Volumes 1, 2, & 3), then Annihilation: Conquest (Volumes 1 & 2) (and I recommend reading Nova along with it because Nova is awesome and it will make more sense) and then the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff written by Dan Abnett, followed by The Thanos Imperative. I haven’t read the new interpretations yet.
The Masterplan by Scott Mills
Carter Zacharias is a man with a mission, a scientist who will stop at nothing to save the universe itself from its unrelenting expansion…and God help any man, woman, or planet that gets in his way.
(They travel all over time and space, meet aliens, robots, themselves… It’s weird and wistful, like Matt Smith’s era. It really works.)