The best science fiction and fantasy books for exploring new worlds

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Risen Empire

Ronald A. Geobey Why did I love this book?

I had been reading Heroic and Epic Fantasy for years, and I’d purposely avoided reading Sci-Fi, convinced that it would influence my burgeoning plot development. I wanted to maintain my plot integrity and not be subconsciously led by other authors in the genre (but of course I couldn’t avoid the influence of the SF I watched on TV). Of course, I was missing out on some great writing. I was enthralled by this story—it combined an undead trope with space opera, as the ‘risen empire’ maintains its territory while facing an external threat from the technologically hybrid Rix. There’s a fascination with the potential of biological augmentation and the place of AI in our distant future (consider ‘immortal’ humans against potentially ‘eternal’ hybrid humans), but this story is extremely character-driven and concerned with the place of the individual. The fictional science was breathtaking and not without research, but what stuck in my mind was the drone warfare, something I used in my own book. Note that The Risen Empire is the first book of a series, and many plots are not resolved in this volume.

By Scott Westerfeld,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The undead Emperor has ruled his mighty interstellar empire of 80 human worlds for 1600 years. Because he can grant a form of eternal life-after-death, creating an elite known as the Risen, his power is absolute. He and his sister, the Child Empress, who is eternally a little girl, are worshipped as living gods. No one can touch them. No until the Rix, machine-augmented humans who worship planetary Al compound minds. The Rix are cool, relentless fanatics, and their only goal I to propagate such Als throughout the galaxy. They seek to end, by any means necessary, the Emperor's prolonged…

Book cover of Pawn of Prophecy

Ronald A. Geobey Why did I love this book?

Pawn of Prophecy was the very first novel I ever read for pleasure, loaned to me by a friend who remains responsible for much of my artistic influences. It opens the immersive and character-driven 5-book epic fantasy series, The Belgariad (which is itself part of a larger sequence of books). Pawn of Prophecy plays on the ancient trope of ‘the hidden child’ dating back to pre-biblical tales (in the Bible, you’ve got Moses, Josiah, and later even the Jesus story in Mark features this trope); in which Garion notices himself watched by a mysterious figure while his Aunt Pol hides her own secrets and raises the boy in purposeful obscurity. Garion, of course, has a world-shattering birthright and a destiny awaits him.

There’s some wonderful worldbuilding here, although as I matured in my own writing, I began to consider Eddings’ nations/races as very one-dimensional—every member of each given race acts in stereotypical fashion. That said, Tolkien’s work was arguably the same; and Eddings (and his wife, as it transpired) immerses us in a fully realised fantasy world that you might say magnifies characterisation by way of the nations to which his characters belong. I still think back fondly to this introduction to writing fantasy and worldbuilding in general.

By David Eddings,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Pawn of Prophecy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first part of a saga set against a history of 7000 years of struggles of gods and kings and men. Long ago, the evil god Torak sought dominion and drove men and gods to war. Belgarath the Sorcerer led a quest to reclaim the Orb of Aldur - but so long as it lay at Riva, men would be safe.

Book cover of Black Sun Rising

Ronald A. Geobey Why did I love this book?

I had never planned to read this book, but by a strange twist of fate, it became highly influential for me. I saw the cover art first, featuring the protagonist with his ‘coldfire’ blade and with the dark creeping lines of magic at his feet—this became the basis for an early rendering of the central character in Kiranis.

Rising focuses on a dark power that attacks the minds of humans, thriving on their fear. There was a wonderful tone to this dark fantasy story that permeated the creepy forests in which I recall most of the action taking place; and the anti-hero at the centre of the story occupies this gothic, almost Victorian Stoker-esque world. Tarrant was an ‘evil’ character with the hope of redemption through a woman he falls in love with, and this story, alongside my reading of Gemmell and Feist, taught me how to create more depth to my characters.

While the background to the story is that of our distant descendants migrating to another planet, Black Sun Rising is not Sci-Fi—it’s very much a dark fantasy; and it opens the Coldfire Trilogy.

By C. S. Friedman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Over a millennium ago, Erna, a seismically active yet beautiful world was settled by colonists from far-distant Earth. But the seemingly habitable planet was fraught with perils no one could have foretold. The colonists found themselves caught in a desperate battle for survival against the fae, a terrifying natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, drawing forth a person's worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life.

Twelve centuries after fate first stranded the colonists on Erna, mankind has achieved an uneasy stalemate, and human sorcerers manipulate the fae for their…

Book cover of Shadow of a Dark Queen

Ronald A. Geobey Why did I love this book?

This was the first Feist book I read, back then having no knowledge of the enormity of the Midkemia universe and yet to read Magician (oh, to be young again!). Shadow is the first book of the Serpentwar Saga, starting decades after the events of the preceding Riftwar Saga. Aside from the building scope of this book and its introduction to the breathtaking scale of events to come, I can still recall the tone and clarity of the scenes in which young Erik, initially an apprentice blacksmith, is facing the noose. For me, Feist captured the dread and hopelessness of impending nothingness, and…well, I won’t spoil it.

There’s a massive plot developing, as you’d expect from Feist, but I think this was probably the first time I’d appreciated the political and military machinations of large-scale campaigns, and it wasn’t just one day there’s peace, the next there’s war. That sense of impending doom at the gallows is magnified a hundredfold as we realise the scale of things to come, as the Saaur, the Pantathian priests, and the Dark Queen herself come into the picture—only to learn that they all have their own doom snapping at their heels. You don’t have to read Riftwar before this—at least I didn’t, and I enjoyed Riftwar just as much afterwards—and it’s an excellent introduction to the work of this wonderful author.

By Raymond E. Feist,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shadow of a Dark Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The astonishing first volume in Raymond E. Feist's bestselling Serpentwar Saga...

A nest of vipers is stirring. . .

Ancient powers are readying themselves for a devastating confrontation. A dark queen has raised her standard and is gathering armies of unmatched might.

Into this battleground of good and evil a band of desperate men are forced, whose only hope for survival is to face this ancient power and discover its true nature.

Among them are some unlikely heroes - Erik, a bastard heir denied his birth right, and his friend Roo, an irrepressible scoundrel with a penchant for thievery. They…

Book cover of Lord of the Silver Bow

Ronald A. Geobey Why did I love this book?

No list of mine would be complete without a title from my favourite author; but the Troy trilogy is a bittersweet masterpieceGemmell died before it was completed. Thankfully, his wife took up the work from his extensive notes and it’s graciously unclear as to where in the final book the transition is made. She captured his voice tremendously.

As a lover of the Classics, it didn’t take long for me to get fully immersed in this reimagining of Homer’s Iliad, with the excellent characterisation and worldbuilding you’d expect from Gemmell. It also incorporates echoes of the author’s love of biblical stories (playing on the claims to a potential overlap in the chronology) and ancient Roman literatureespecially the Aeneid (Virgil’s attempt to appropriate for Rome the legacy of Troy). If you enjoy epic historical fiction/fantasy, this is an absolute must-read. The research is clear, the passion for the ancient world and this tragic tale more than evident. Check it out.

By David Gemmell,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Lord of the Silver Bow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three lives will change the destiny of nations. Hellkaon, the young prince of Dardania, haunted by a scarred and traumatic childhood. The priestess Andromache, whose fiery spirit and fierce Independence threatens the might of kings. And the legendary warrior Argurios, cloaked in loneliness and driven only by thoughts of revenge. In Troy they find a city torn apart by destructive rivalries - a maelstrom of jealousy, deceit and murderous treachery. And beyond its fabled walls blood-hungry enemies eye its riches and plot its downfall. It is a time of bravery and betrayal; a time of bloodshed and fear. A time…

You might also like...

Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

By Marsali Taylor,

Book cover of Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

Marsali Taylor Author Of Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Women’s historian Cat-lover Temporarily limping But determinedly recovering

Marsali's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Liveaboard sailor Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived when she blags her way into skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film. However, this means returning to the Shetland Islands, the place she fled as a teenager. When a corpse unexpectedly appears onboard the longship, she can run from the past no longer: Cass and her family come under intense scrutiny from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Gavin Macrae.

Even if Cass’s local knowledge and sailing wisdom help to clear the Lynch family of suspicion, they may not be enough to stay ahead of the murderer’s game... and avoid becoming the next victim.

Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

By Marsali Taylor,

What is this book about?

When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the `accidents' begin - and when a dead woman turns up on the boat's deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn't realise she'd gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in extraterrestrial life, space horror, and prophecy?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about extraterrestrial life, space horror, and prophecy.

Extraterrestrial Life Explore 221 books about extraterrestrial life
Space Horror Explore 23 books about space horror
Prophecy Explore 42 books about prophecy