The best epic science fiction fantasy novels for immersive worldbuilding

Who am I?

While Dune, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (1980s), and other SF staples laid the foundation for my love of SFF, I was also reading about the universe from a young age. Along came Star Trek: The Next Generation in the ‘90s and the stage was set. Completing Bachelor’s Degrees in Ancient History & Archaeology; Religions & Theology; and a PhD in Near and Middle Eastern Studies copper-fastened my passion for the ancient world and the history of religion, and along with reading historical fiction and fantasy, everything merged into the almost allegorical universe you’ll find in Kiranis. Lovers of all the above will find something here.

I wrote...

Gods of Kiranis

By Ronald A. Geobey,

Book cover of Gods of Kiranis

What is my book about?

Kiranis charts the machinations of the Prophet Naveen, as he bends the Universe to his will in a scheme spanning centuries of human development. Gods of Kiranis lays the foundation for a breathtaking new universe, as the Cage arrives at Earth and a countdown threatens activation:

A mysterious structure encompasses Earth, and while the Church of the New Elect prepares for communion with the Sentience, a dark and distant world is reborn. Making an alliance with a powerful and enigmatic species, humankind is brought to a terrible realisation: they do not belong in this universe. Cassandra Messina was warned these days would come, and she believes God is on her side. But the one who speaks from the shadows is not a god at all. Not even close.

The books I picked & why

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By Frank Herbert,

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

I was probably about 10, but I can still remember sneaking downstairs late at night to watch David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune. It was dark and glorious and majestic—I was captivated. When I read the book later in life, I was first drawn in by the credibility ascribed to fictional texts created by Herbert, their themes and lessons setting the scene for what was to come. But Herbert’s methods of immersion were something I wasn’t prepared for—politics, religion, philosophy, and characters that held their dimensions with soliloquy as if they had stepped to one side of the stage. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was the direct inspiration for Governor Ben-Hadad in my book, but more than that, the sheer scale and reach of Dune has never left me. Folding space, fleets of giant ships, thousands of fighters in a hostile environment…and, of course, the terrifying Shai-Hulud. Bless the maker.

The Ring of Five Dragons

By Eric Van Lustbader,

Book cover of The Ring of Five Dragons

Why this book?

I discovered the Pearl Saga (a trilogy) via Van Lustbader taking up the reins on Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels. While I was reading these books, I was waiting to hear from Voyager (Harper Collins) regarding an epic fantasy novel I wrote, which featured in its climactic scenes a girl using crystals to trap a dragon in a cage-like device inside a mountain. There was a delay in the publication of the third book of the Pearl Saga, and when it came out, it featured a girl holding a ‘crystal’ before a dragon, and it was called The Cage of Nine Banestones. My heart sank, but it turned out that the delay was related to the death of Van Lustbader’s father.

The trilogy begun in ‘Ring’ is for some brooding and self-indulgent, but for me it was a triumph of worldbuilding and alien realia, with technology and sorcery vying for supremacy. These books explore the clash of culture and ‘othering’ as a practice of oppression. A warning, though: this is not an easy read, with scenes of sexual violence and a real sense of despair amongst the victims of the V’ornn occupation. If you can handle the darkness, though, this is an immersive Science Fantasy that will transport you to a fully visualised alien world.

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

Why this book?

A seeming tangent, I know, but bear with me…if you haven’t read King’s Dark Tower books, you are missing out on one of the most amazing works in modern literature. Just read the Foreword to The Gunslinger and you’ll get some idea of why I treasure the concept here—King left Roland of Gilead, in a world blending Tolkien and Clint Eastwood westerns, for many years before returning to the Dark Tower, but so much of his work continued to feature references to the Dark Tower universe. If you’ve seen the terrible movie that sacrilegiously condensed King’s magnum opus into a 90-minute disaster, please erase it from memory before immersing yourself into the most fantastic blend of horror and fantasy you’ll ever read. If, like me, you get your hands on the illustrated hardbacks that close the series, you’ll enjoy this even more.

The Complete Chronicles of the Jerusalem Man

By David Gemmell,

Book cover of The Complete Chronicles of the Jerusalem Man

Why this book?

This is my bible, the book I’ve read more times than any other. It’s three books in oneWolf in Shadow, The Last Guardian, and Bloodstone. There’s clearly some direct inspiration here in relation to the mystical power source that keeps cropping up (no spoilers). Some things just get in your head and reintroduce themselves when you least expect it. Jon Shannow is my favourite literary creation, Gemmell my favourite author. Overall, heroic and epic fantasy has had the most influence on my writing style, but I’ve merged it with contemporary language and the vision of large-scale sci-fi. I learned a lot from reading Gemmell, and The Jerusalem Man’s post-apocalyptic setting sees the sharp-shooting anti-hero face darkly religious demagogues, mutated creatures, and insidious megalomaniacs. Shannow is a troubled soul trying to be good in a world of relentless evil, but Gemmell’s writing is sharper, less abstruse, and captivates you as the protagonist pushes back desperately against the nihilistic bent of his environment.

Belgarath the Sorcerer

By David Eddings, Leigh Eddings,

Book cover of Belgarath the Sorcerer

Why this book?

You want epic—you got epic! Belgarath becomes the disciple of the god, Aldur, and struggles to learn not only magic, but humility. Belgarath the Sorcerer is a late book in Eddings’ epic series, and if I recall correctly, it should be read after The Belgariad and The Mallorean (both of which are 5-book sequences). I’m pretty sure that reading about these hugely powerful gods and their disciples seeped into the developing inspiration for Kiranis, with its gods and prophets and grand schemes. There’s something deeply welcoming about this book, which is in 1st person as Belgarath tells his tale, especially following everything that happened in the preceding 10-book cycle. This is my favourite Eddings character, and he is more alive than those you might think were the central ones. From this book, I learned that true character development is an evolutionary process, and you just have to be patient – just keep writing, and eventually, you’ll meet them.

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