The best science fiction novels of large galactic empires

Joe Vasicek Author Of Brothers in Exile
By Joe Vasicek

The Books I Picked & Why

Dune

By Frank Herbert

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

Dune is, in my opinion, the most perfect science fiction novel ever written. The world-building accomplishes the rare feat of feeling immensely complex, impressively alien, and also uncannily believable. If we could take a time machine twenty thousand years into our future, we would probably find a galactic empire very much like the one in Dune.


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Foundation

By Isaac Asimov

Book cover of Foundation

Why this book?

While the Foundation novels feel a bit dated now, Asimov’s vision of a sweeping galactic empire has influenced everything from Star Wars (Coruscant is basically a rip-off of Trantor) to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The series chronicles the fall of the old empire and the rise of a new one, and raises questions of fate vs. free will, historical inevitability, and the impact that individuals can have on the course of events much larger than themselves.


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On Basilisk Station

By David Weber

Book cover of On Basilisk Station

Why this book?

David Weber’s Honorverse is what Star Trek wants to be when it grows up, and the first novel, On Basilisk Station, is a wonderful place to start. It introduces the main character, Honor Harrington, at an early part (but not the beginning) of her military career, and introduces both the Star Kingdom of Manticore and its primary antagonists (at least for the earlier books in the series), especially the Republic of Haven.


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Shards of Honor: Volume 2

By Lois McMaster Bujold

Book cover of Shards of Honor: Volume 2

Why this book?

The Vorkosigan Saga is one of my favorite science fiction series of all time, not just because of Bujold’s wonderful insights into human nature, but because of all of the exciting intrigue and twists and turns. Most people’s favorite part about these books is the charisma, charm, and intelligence of Miles Vorkosigan, the series’ primary antagonist, but I actually think that Shards of Honor is the best place to start. It introduces Miles’s parents and shows how the unlikely couple got together, with a great deal of adventure thrown into the mix.


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Barrayar: Volume 3

By Lois McMaster Bujold

Book cover of Barrayar: Volume 3

Why this book?

Shards of Honor and Barrayar form a duology within the wider Vorkosigan Saga, and starting with them both is the best way to become acquainted with the wider series universe and with the origins of Miles Vorkosigan. All of the later books refer back to events that happen in Barrayar, and one of the core conflicts of the novel is the struggle between the conservative isolationists who don’t want to integrate with the rest of the galaxy, and the liberal reformists who do. The political intrigue is extremely well done, and the adventure is superb.


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