A few weeks ago I asked my readers (the mighty and awesome ones who get my newsletter) what their favorite science fiction books were. I got a ton of responses of both favorite books and favorite series—so much that I had to create a separate list just for series.
I’ve never been a big military SF fan, but Dauntless does a solid job of changing my mind.
A soldier is woken up after one hundred years of drifting in space in survival hibernation and discovers that he’s been made a hero and a legend for his famous last stand. Not only is the war he fought in still raging, but he’s thrown into the command of a fleet of ships, deep in enemy territory and vastly outnumbered.
Dauntless is a skillful combination of military action, realistic science, and believable, interesting characters. The woken soldier (now fleet commander) has to deal with uncomfortable hero-worship, overeager soldiers, incompetent captains, political operatives with murky agendas, and a massive enemy fleet.
“The Lost Fleet is some of the best military science fiction on the shelves today.”
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. 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 struggles 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.”
3. The White Dragon
4. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern
5. Nerilka’s Story
7. The Renegades of Pern
8. All the Weyrs of Pern
9. The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall
10. The Dolphins of Pern
12. The Masterharper of Pern
13. The Skies of Pern
14. Dragon’s Kin
16. Dragon’s Fire
17. Dragon Harper
18. Dragon’s Time
19. Sky Dragons
By Gigi McCaffrey:
These books take place on an alien world called Pern, but they’ll scratch the fantasy itch far more than a science fiction one.
On Pern, an ancient way of life is about to come under attack from a myth that is all too real. Lessa is an outcast survivor—her parents murdered, her birthright stolen—a strong young woman who has never stopped dreaming of revenge. But when an ancient threat to Pern reemerges, Lessa will rise—upon the back of a great dragon with whom she shares a telepathic bond more intimate than any human connection. Together, dragon and rider will fly… and Pern will be changed forever.
“Read Dragonflight and you’re confronted with McCaffrey the storyteller in her prime, staking a claim for being one of the influential fantasy and SF novelists of her generation—and doing it, remarkably, in the same novel.”
1. On Basilisk Station
2. The Honor of the Queen
3. The Short Victorious War
4. Field of Dishonor
5. Flag in Exile
6. Honor Among Enemies
7. In Enemy Hands
8. Echoes of Honor
9. Ashes of Victory
10. War of Honor
11. At All Costs
12. Mission of Honor
13. A Rising Thunder
14. Uncompromising Honor
Note: there are also a number of anthologies and spin-off series.
Having made a superior look foolish, recent graduate Honor Harrington is exiled to Basilisk Station in disgrace, and her demoralized crew blames her for their ship’s humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station.
The government isn’t sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want Honor Harrington’s head; the star-conquering, so-called “Republic” of Haven is Up To Something; the aborigines of the system’s only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with woefully inadequate armament.
But the people out to get Honor have made one mistake. They’ve made her mad.
There are also several spin-off series.
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut―young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.
“An affecting novel full of surprises. Card never makes the mistake of patronizing or sentimentalizing his hero.”
—The New York Times Book Review
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.”
In the dream-like Annihilation, a section of the Californian coast has turned so weird that it’s now called Area X. This happened thirty years ago, and no one on the outside knows why everyone inside Area X died, why there are weird structures inside, or why there’s a border you can’t get through except through one invisible entrance. Is it a slow alien invasion, a mass hallucination, or something else?
Annihilation covers the twelfth expedition into Area X, where the members have given up their names and refer to each other only by profession: the biologist, the linguist, and so on. All the previous expeditions into Area X have ended in death, madness, or cancer.
This book is a gentle ride into subtle weirdness. You don’t get too many straight answers about what Area X is or is even like on the inside. Some things are normal, some fantastical, and most of it messes with your head. It all feels truly alien and you get the sense that this is going to be impossible to understand, no matter how many facts you have at your disposal.
“[G]ripping… thoroughly suspenseful… VanderMeer weaves together an otherworldly tale of the supernatural and the half-human.”
—Booklist, starred review
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. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
“Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.”
―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
For centuries, the barren, desolate landscape of the red planet has beckoned to humankind.
Now a group of one hundred colonists begins a mission whose ultimate goal is to transform Mars into a more Earth-like planet. They will place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light onto its surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels drilled into the mantle will create stupendous vents of hot gases. But despite these ambitious goals, there are some who would fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed.
“[A]n action-packed and thoughtful tale of the exploration and settlement of Mars—driven by both personal and ideological conflicts—in the early 21st century.”
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
“This is the future the way it was supposed to be.”
—The Wall Street Journal
The least human character in All Systems Red is also the most human. A half-robotic creature (or maybe more than half) privately calls itself Murderbot, and it’s got a good reason to. All the humans around it consider it just another security android, which is fine by Murderbot; it’d rather watch bad TV than have to interact with humans.
But when things start to go seriously wrong with the planetary exploration team that Murderbot is supposed to protect, more truths are revealed than it would prefer.
“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.”
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
There are many other Dune books and series written by Frank Herbert’s son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson. I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve come across.
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.
“It is possible that Dune is even more relevant now than when it was first published.”
—The New Yorker
Psychohistory is one of Asimov’s best inventions: using a combination of history, psychology, and statistics, one can accurately predict the behavior of large groups of people.
Foundation is arguably the first time a believable galactic empire was created in print. Unfortunately, Asimov’s characters tend be one-dimensional, but his stories are so entertaining that it’s easy to forgive that lapse.