The excellent books of The Expanse series are full of mystery, space battles, a strange alien material, and interplanetary politics. If you’ve burned through them (like I have) and want more, here are some books that might help scratch that itch.
If you haven’t read The Expanse, you’re in luck: you have lots of books in your future.
- Leviathan Wakes
- Caliban’s War
- Abaddon’s Gate
- Cibola Burn
- Nemesis Games
- Babylon’s Ashes
- Persepolis Rising
- Tiamat’s Wrath
Hugo award winner
Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from super-intelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing this galactic threat, Ravna crash lands on a strange world with a ship-hold full of cryogenically frozen children, the only survivors from a destroyed space-lab. They are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle.
“With uninterrupted pacing, suspense without contrivance, and deftly drawn aliens who can be pleasantly comical without becoming cute, Vinge offers heart-pounding, mind-expanding science fiction at its best.”
This Hugo winner was cited as one of the top 50 science fiction novels of all time by Locus magazine (who hands out a prestigious award every year that’s just a little less recognized than the Hugo or Nebula).
Often described as an excellent novel that just happens to take place on a space station, Downbelow Station is filled with realistic characters under incredible amounts of stress, living on a vulnerable but supremely important space station in the middle of a war.
Downbelow Station is one of Cherryh’s Union-Alliance novels. While separate and complete in themselves, they are part of a much larger tapestry—a future history spanning 5,000 years of human civilization.
“Cherryh tantalizes our minds…captures our hearts and involves us completely…a consistently thoughtful and entertaining writer.”
Hail Bristol has made a name for herself as one of the most fearsome gunrunners in the galaxy. But she can’t escape her past forever: twenty years ago, she was a runaway princess of the Indranan Empire. Now, her mother’s people have finally come to bring her home.
But when Hail is dragged back to her Indrana to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir, she finds that trading her ship for a palace is her most dangerous move yet.
“Excellent SF adventure debut.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy.
When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer Commander Elena Shaw is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer, and why are the cops framing an innocent man?
“A powerful blend of military sci-fi and vintage crime noir.”
Artemis isn’t as good as The Martian, but it’s pretty close. Author Andy Weir kept what was great about The Martian: hard science, humor, and a charmingly sarcastic protagonist.
It takes a little while for the story to get going, but it’s the best depiction of a lunar colony I’ve ever read.
Artemis is about a young, super-smart but lazy criminal on the moon who goes for a major score and immediately gets in way over her head. Clever scheming, problem-solving, and the occasional explosion keep this book entertaining.
“An action-packed techno-thriller of the first order…the perfect vehicle for humans who want to escape, if only for a time, the severe gravity of planet earth. The pages fly by.”
While drifting in space, lost due to navigational failure, a mineral scout discovers God. When word gets out, academics from the studiums across Orion scramble to gain the Entity’s favor. However, not all the sentients of Orion hold this “god” in awe. Some, like the philosophers of Scolar and the Transhumans of Extropy are deeply suspicious.
Onto the grand stage of interplanetary academic politics, intellectual conceit, and dubious theology walks Baronessa Mira Fedor. Her planet has been torn apart by the invasion of a race of giant tardigrades. Only the Orion League of Sentient Species can lend aid, but OLOSS is preoccupied with communicating with God. Mira, together with the rowdy, misogynist Jo-Jo Rasterovich, is left to her own resources to find help. In doing so she unmasks a galaxy-sized intrigue. But will she live long enough to tell anyone?
“[A]n engaging space opera with plenty of action.”
Skeen is a bandit and a rogue, wanted throughout myriad solar systems for plundering the rare antiquities of countless alien civilizations while always keeping one rocket ship-length ahead of the intergalactic law. A “rooner” with a dark past, she now finds herself penniless and abandoned on a miserable backwater planet, at the tail end of a string of very bad luck, with no option except to follow unreliable rumors to a supposed fortune in gems hidden among ancient ruins. What she finds instead is a gateway into another world—and a universe of trouble.
“Clayton has the gift of creating believable aliens and alien worlds, and a lively, vivid, often lyrical style.”
—Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review
Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards
Seeded among the stars are troves of valuable artifacts left behind by the enigmatic, long-vanished alien race called the Heechee. For the right price, anyone can climb aboard one of the abandoned Heechee spaceships, castoff on an autopilot voyage to parts unknown, and take a chance on finding wealth . . . or facing death.
Robinette Broadhead took that chance and walked away a winner. But at what cost? Despite living a millionaire’s life of material luxury, he’s haunted by crippling despair—and the dark secrets buried deep in his psyche. With the help of his computerized psychiatrist, the truth about what happened “out there” could set Broadhead free. But only after a personal journey more terrifying and, ultimately, more devastating than his last fateful trip into space.
—The New York Times Book Review
The Culture—a human/machine symbiotic society—has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh, the Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life—and very possibly his death.
“An exquisitely riotous tour de force of the imagination which writes its own rules simply for the pleasure of breaking them.”
Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards
Conscripted into service for the United Nations Exploratory Force, a highly trained unit built for revenge, physics student William Mandella fights for his planet light years away against the alien force known as the Taurans.
Because of the relative passage of time when one travels at incredibly high speed, the Earth Mandella returns to after his two-year experience has progressed decades and is foreign to him in disturbing ways.
Based in part on the author’s experiences in Vietnam, The Forever War is regarded as one of the greatest military science fiction novels ever written, capturing the alienation that servicemen and women experience even now upon returning home from battle.
The year is 2380. The Intersolar Commonwealth, a sphere of stars, contains more than six hundred worlds interconnected by a web of transport “tunnels” known as wormholes. At the farthest edge of the Commonwealth, astronomer Dudley Bose observes the impossible: over one thousand light-years away, a star . . . disappears. Since the location is too distant to reach by wormhole, the Second Chance, a faster-than-light starship commanded by Wilson Kime, a five-times-rejuvenated ex-NASA pilot, is dispatched to learn what has occurred and whether it represents a threat.
Opposed to the mission are the Guardians of Selfhood, led by Bradley Johansson. Shortly after the journey begins, Kime wonders if the crew of the Second Chance has been infiltrated. But soon enough he will have other worries. Halfway across the galaxy, something truly incredible is waiting: a deadly discovery whose unleashing will threaten to destroy the Commonwealth . . . and humanity itself.
“Recommended . . . A large cast of characters, each with his own story, brings depth and variety to this far-future saga.”
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet.
Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlord struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies…even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
“[A] spectacular adventure . . . one heart-pounding ride . . . dizzyingly good.”
The Frank Tipler is just one of a thousand survey vessels sent out into the bubble of space surrounding Earth, seeking habitable worlds and signs of advanced life. Its crew has stumbled across artifacts left behind by a benevolent trader species, but the decision to study them is fraught with danger and uncertainty. The Tipler‘s crew consists of forty flawed electronic copies of human beings, some of them profoundly damaged—and Earth stopped responding to signals over a century ago.
Caught between madness and political machinations, Alander stands on the brink of what might be the greatest discovery humanity has ever made—and a gift that humanity can’t afford to accept.
“The science in Dix and Williams’s work shines, entrancing with its glitter and innovation.”
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life.
But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.
Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?
“This is superior stuff, tackling big themes—gods, messiahs, artificial intelligence, alienness—with brio.”
Winner of the Hugo award
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the reach of galactic law, waits a creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.
On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.
“An unfailingly inventive narrative . . . generously conceived and stylistically sure-handed.”
—The New York Times Book Review
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Once, she was the Justice of Toren—a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
“Leckie uses…an expansionist galaxy-spinning empire [and] a protagonist on a single-minded quest for justice to transcend space-opera conventions in innovative ways.”
In a supernova flash, the asteroid arrived and entered Earth’s orbit. Three hundred kilometers in length, it is not solid rock but a series of hollowed-out chambers housing ancient, abandoned cities of human origin, a civilization named Thistledown. The people who lived there survived a nuclear holocaust that nearly rendered humanity extinct—more than a thousand years from now.
To prevent this future from coming to pass, theoretical mathematician Patricia Vasquez must explore Thistledown and decipher its secret history. But what she discovers is an even greater mystery, a tunnel that exists beyond the physical dimensions of the asteroid. Called the Way, it leads to the home of humanity’s descendants, and to a conflict greater than the impending war between Earth’s superpowers over the fate of the asteroid.
“[M]ay be the best constructed hard SF epic yet.”
—The Washington Post
Revelation Space is a sprawling, hard-SF tale with enough original ideas for three thick novels. Seriously, it’s overflowing with the stuff. And it’s written by a guy with a PhD in astronomy, so all the science feels solid.
It’s got aliens, artificial intelligence, megastructures, colonized planets, ancient mysteries, cyborgs, big-ass spaceships, intrigue, betrayal, and murder. Reads don’t get much more satisfying than this.
Nine hundred thousand years ago, something annihilated the Amarantin civilization just as it was on the verge of discovering space flight. Now one scientist, Dan Sylveste, will stop at nothing to solve the Amarantin riddle before ancient history repeats itself. With no other resources at his disposal, Sylveste forges a dangerous alliance with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. But as he closes in on the secret, a killer closes in on him because the Amarantin were destroyed for a reason. And if that reason is uncovered, the universe-and reality itself-could be irrevocably altered.
“[A] tour de force… ravishingly inventive.”
A catastrophic event renders the Earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain….
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown…to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
“Stephenson’s remarkable novel is deceptively complex, a disaster story and transhumanism tale that serves as the delivery mechanism for a series of technical and sociological visions.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First, he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So, we fight, to defend Earth and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.
Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea of what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine. And what he will become is far stranger.
“Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master [Heinlein]…This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF’s past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they’re approached with ingenuity.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
“We are all a little bit Murderbot… we see ourselves in its skin. And that reading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.”
I just finished reading this book, and it’s one of the most fun science fiction books I’ve ever read. Strongly recommended.
Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it’s a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street.
Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he’ll be switched off, and they’ll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty.
The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad—very mad.
The best-selling science fiction book of all time.
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for….
When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
“Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of the Rings is to fantasy.”
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion.
“Wildly imaginative, really interesting.”