The best novels about exploring big things in space

Why am I passionate about this?

I first stumbled on the idea of colonizing space when I read Adrian Berry's The Next Ten Thousand Years and T.A. Heppenheimer's Colonies in Space, back in the late 1970s. In those post-Apollo, pre-Space Shuttle years, colonizing outer space seemed inevitable. I was hooked: this stuff was real, and it was going to happen. It might even happen to me. But living in space isn't very exciting to read about. Of course, just a few years after reading those books I was watching Indiana Jones dodge deathtraps in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Combine the two: space colonies full of danger and surprises are much better!


I wrote...

The Scarab Mission

By James L. Cambias,

Book cover of The Scarab Mission

What is my book about?

Solana is a Scarab, salvaging abandoned space habitats among the Billion Worlds of the Tenth Millennium. Along with a raven, a cyborg, and a dinosaur mercenary, she boards the derelict colony Safdaghar hoping to score some loot before the colony gets catapulted into the outer rim of the Solar System. But Solana and the Scarabs come face to face with a gang of vicious pirates looking for slaves and treasure, and a mysterious stranger intent on preserving an explosive secret. Solana must overcome her own horrifying past to survive and escape before it's too late. But there's an even greater threat lurking in the dark passages and ruined buildings of Safdaghar...

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Rendezvous with Rama

James L. Cambias Why did I love this book?

Rama is a spaceship, not a space station, but it's huge and ancient, and at first appears to be abandoned. Then the human explorers realize it's just sleeping. This is a prime example of science fiction's "sense of wonder" at the strangeness of the Universe. When I read it, at about age 14, it utterly blew me away with its combination of rock-hard science and utter weirdness. It also has the best final line ever.

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Rendezvous with Rama as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the year 2130, a mysterious and apparently untenanted alien spaceship, Rama, enters our solar system. The first product of an alien civilisation to be encountered by man, it reveals a world of technological marvels and an unparalleled artificial ecology.

But what is its purpose in 2131?

Who is inside it?

And why?


Book cover of Neuromancer

James L. Cambias Why did I love this book?

This novel kicked off the Cyberpunk revolution in SF in the 1980s. Though most of it takes place in a crowded and dystopian future Earth, the final section is set aboard a space colony, the Villa Straylight, controlled by a creepy inbred family of billionaires and a rogue artificial intelligence. The basic plot is a "caper story" about a team of professionals putting together a plan to get into Straylight—but then they discover that getting out is a bigger problem.

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Neuromancer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book that defined the cyberpunk movement, inspiring everything from The Matrix to Cyberpunk 2077.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

William Gibson revolutionised science fiction in his 1984 debut Neuromancer. The writer who gave us the matrix and coined the term 'cyberspace' produced a first novel that won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards, and lit the fuse on the Cyberpunk movement.

More than three decades later, Gibson's text is as stylish as ever, his noir narrative still glitters like chrome in the shadows and his depictions of…


Book cover of Ringworld

James L. Cambias Why did I love this book?

Another one of modern science fiction's keystone texts, written at the height of Niven's powers. The Ringworld turns everything up to eleven. It's a space habitat with as much room as a million Earths—not just a megastructure but a gigastructure. Traversing it on foot or by aircraft is daunting, and the team of shipwrecked explorers looking for a way off are constantly encountering new wonders. In my own work I try to keep the same sense that all the amazing things could really happen. To me that makes it more amazing.

By Larry Niven,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Ringworld as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pierson's puppeteers, strange, three-legged, two-headed aliens, have discovered an immense structure in a hitherto unexplored part of the universe. Frightened of meeting the builders of such a structure, the puppeteers set about assembling a team consisting of two humans, a puppeteer and a kzin, an alien not unlike an eight-foot-tall, red-furred cat, to explore it. The artefact is a vast circular ribbon of matter, some 180 million miles across, with a sun at its centre - the Ringworld. But the expedition goes disastrously wrong when the ship crashlands and its motley crew faces a trek across thousands of miles of…


Book cover of Revenger

James L. Cambias Why did I love this book?

Revenger is a ripping space pirate yarn, but grounded in solid science. Amid all the yo-ho-ho tropes it includes a gripping section in which a rag-tag crew of scavengers penetrate into a sealed asteroid tomb-world. They must survive perils, find what they're looking for, and get out before it seals itself up again. I expect this book will be considered a classic in future decades.

By Alastair Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Revenger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives.

And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them . . .

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It's their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded with layers of protection - and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is…


Book cover of Titan

James L. Cambias Why did I love this book?

In Varley's breakout novel, a team of NASA astronauts discover that one of Saturn's moons is a giant artificial structure—and in the process get trapped inside. The bizarre environment holds creatures genetically created by a godlike intelligence gone mad. With their spaceship reduced to scrap, there's no escape for the explorers, so instead of getting out they have to find a place for themselves in an alien society. Varley wrote two sequels, building expertly on this book and revealing new secrets.

By John Varley,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Titan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twenty years ago, the Gaean Trilogy dazzled critics and readers. Now a new generation will discover that brilliant world--beginning with Titan.


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Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

Book cover of Empire in the Sand

Shane Joseph Author Of Empire in the Sand

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a writer for more than twenty years and have favored pursuing “truth in fiction” rather than “money in formula.” I also spent over thirty years in the corporate world and was exposed to many situations reminiscent of those described in my fiction and in these recommended books. While I support enterprise, “enlightened capitalism” is preferable to the bare-knuckle type we have today, and which seems to resurface whenever regulation weakens. I also find writing novels closer to my lived experience connects me intimately with readers who are looking for socio-political, realist literature.

Shane's book list on exposing corporate, political, and personal corruption

What is my book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis.

His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election. Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian beekeeper living on Vancouver Island hold the key to Avery’s recovery, a man holding secrets that put lives in jeopardy? Avery races across the country to find out, with crooked bosses, politicians, and assassins on his tail. Joseph spins a cautionary tale of corporate and political greed that is endemic to our times.

Empire in the Sand

By Shane Joseph,

What is this book about?

Avery Mann, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, is in crisis. His wife dies of cancer, his son’s marriage is on the rocks, his grandson is having a meltdown, and his good friend is a victim of the robocalls scandal that invades the Canadian federal election.

Throw in a reckless fling with a former colleague, a fire that destroys his retirement property, and a rumour emerging that the drug he helped bring to market years ago may have been responsible for the death of his wife, and Avery’s life goes into freefall.

Does an octogenarian bee keeper living on Vancouver Island hold…


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