The best books chronicling the rise, fall, and rebirth of galactic empires

The Books I Picked & Why

Dune

By Frank Herbert

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

Dune was one of the first epic science fiction novels I read as a teenager, and it had a profound influence on my relationship with the genre because of the sweeping narrative which created a universe where high and low tech lived side-by-side with mysticism. The idea of a story set so far into the future that I could barely grasp the passage of time, but with societies we can still recognize made me realize that humanity will not and probably cannot fundamentally change. And that narrative thread came to influence my own writing.


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Foundation

By Isaac Asimov

Book cover of Foundation

Why this book?

Foundation wasn’t my first Asimov story. On the contrary. My father enjoyed his books, and I tore through his library after discovering them as a teen. But what set Foundation apart from his other work and made it memorable for me was the concept of psychohistory — predicting how humanity would develop through rise, collapse, and rebirth. The idea fired up my own imagination and there is no doubt Asimov’s influence was key in helping me develop as a writer by sparking ideas about the rise and fall of empires, something that always fascinated me as an amateur historian.


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War World: Discovery

By John F. Carr

Book cover of War World: Discovery

Why this book?

The War World series of novels, novellas, and short stories drew me in because they represent a microcosm of what happens when a civilization crashes in an inhospitable environment. I’ve been an avid fan of Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium universe ever since reading West of Honor and seeing how it evolved for good and for bad through the War World lens, as developed by a long list of fantastic authors, kept intriguing me for years. Many of the concepts developed throughout the series had a marked influence on my own worldbuilding, and for that, it will always have a special place in my pantheon of books.


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The Forge (The Raj Whitehall Series: The General, Book 1)

By S.M. Stirling, David Drake

Book cover of The Forge (The Raj Whitehall Series: The General, Book 1)

Why this book?

This series, to my mind, epitomizes the idea of a gradual rebirth after a galactic civilization collapses, leaving humans stranded on countless worlds with varying degrees of technology. I found the way in which Drake approaches said rebirth incredibly fascinating as well as entertaining, by using sentient artifacts of the long-vanished empire to guide humans back to the stars. And, as a dog lover, I really enjoyed him using oversized canines instead of horses for his pre-industrial cavalry.


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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Edward Gibbon

Book cover of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Why this book?

I’ve been an amateur historian for as long as I can remember. The past enthralls me, especially the bits where everything goes wrong and entire societies crumble. I suppose it’s because I agree with George Santayana that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and the idea has always held a certain fascination. As downfalls go, I figure none had a greater effect on western civilization than that of the classic Roman Empire and for me, it’s the template which explains so many historical cycles of the past and will continue to explain those of the future. Gibbon’s work is the definitive story of that era and a must-read for anyone interested in predicting what the next few centuries might bring.


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