The best books about galactic empires

31 authors have picked their favorite books about galactic empires and why they recommend each book.

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Dune

By Frank Herbert,

Book cover of Dune

Again, this book is in most ways clearly SF—space travel, zappy ray guns, force fields—but the sandworms are straight out of Kaiju movies or dragon stories. The force field technology means that the most important fights are hand-to-hand with bladed weapons, and Herbert’s protagonists are the prophesy-believing tribesmen who live close to the land and hold fast to their ancient traditions. And it’s also full of mystical, high-flown metaphysical philosophy, most of which I could happily crib for use in a fantasy novel. In short, it’s not really SF, it’s Lawrence of Arabia with lasers and witches.


Who am I?

Science Fiction, which used to be used to market all kinds of fantastic fiction (including The Lord of the Rings) was first subdivided into marketing genres like SF, Horror, and Fantasy. In recent years, those genres have been sliced into even smaller portions—into sub-genres like Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Fantasy of Manners, Cyberpunk, and so on. The reasons that happened? We’ll save that for some much longer conversation. I’ve been a fantasy and science fiction writer for more than thirty years, and a reader and fan of the genre for longer than that—since childhood. My books have been New York Times and Sunday Times bestsellers, and they’re published in more than two dozen languages.


I wrote...

Into the Narrowdark

By Tad Williams,

Book cover of Into the Narrowdark

What is my book about?

The High Throne of Erkynland is tottering, its royal family divided and diminished. Queen Miriamele has been caught up in a brutal rebellion in the south and thought to have died in a fiery attack. Her grandson Morgan, heir to the throne, has been captured by one of Utuk’ku’s soldiers in the ruins of an abandoned city. Miriamele’s husband, King Simon, is overwhelmed by grief and hopelessness, unaware that many of these terrible things have been caused by Pasevalles, a murderous traitor inside Simon’s own court at the Hayholt.

Meanwhile, a deadly army of Norns led by the ageless, vengeful Queen Utuk’ku, has swept into Erkynland and thrown down the fortress of Naglimund, slaughtering the inhabitants and digging up the ancient grave of Ruyan the Navigator. 

The Stars, Like Dust

By Isaac Asimov,

Book cover of The Stars, Like Dust

It is not possible to talk about “galactic empires” in SF and not naming/checking Asimov’s masterpieces. Asimov describes in breathtaking detail a highly complex yet credible and vivid universe and follows its evolution and the struggles in a historical buildup, encompassing several novels. Expect to feel like watching History Channel of the Future: you will see an empire rise, swell outward, stabilize, destabilize, fall, experience a Dark Age that lasts 30,000 years, and then rise again. Asimov based many of the details of his empire on the Romans, their history, and their Empire. Impossible not to feel how real his Galaxy thus becomes: here and there you will have the sensation that something familiar is unfolding in front of your eyes… if you have studied classics and history, that is. Asimov’s Galactic Empire is thus recognizable and with a familiar shape, and at the same time, it is the epitome…


Who am I?

My dad was a subscriber of “Astounding Stories." If you know the magazine, it is famous not only because it featured the giants of science fiction genre, but also for its colorful and imaginative covers. I didn’t have the right to read those stories until later, when dad thought I could understand them, but I loved the covers and imagined myself stories which started from them or used the scenes as inspiration for a short story which I wrote for myself. The science fiction bug wormed into my brain at that time. Then, I just devoured every novel which landed at home and kept writing. 


I wrote...

The Law

By Massimo Marino,

Book cover of The Law

What is my book about?

Tancredi Gilmor is one of the Law Scholars at the Tribunal of Ahthaza, the capital planet of the subjugated Kritas race. When the Tribunal adopts tougher measures against the mounting turmoils, and the marines tighten their grip on the population, violence escalates and Tancredi is confronted with the brutality of the space marines' oppression; his steadfast loyalty to The Law falters and puts his role within the Tribunal at risk.

Tancredi's behavior intrigues Mekte, a young female Kritas who sees in him the hope for a change. As a member of the Kritas insurgence, Mekte risks everything to meet with Tancredi in secret, believing that together they can and must change the world.

The Forge (The Raj Whitehall Series

By S.M. Stirling, David Drake,

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

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.


Who am I?

Science fiction has always been a passion of mine and, paradoxically, so has history. I lost count long ago of how many historical treatises and historical fiction books I’ve read alongside the science fiction classics, especially those with a military flavor. I was also an Army officer, both regular and reserve, for most of my adult life, and gleefully tore through the recommended Army reading list, much of which focused on military history. Combining my interest in history with my military experience and my love for science fiction led me to create a future universe where empires rise, grow old, and collapse only to be reborn and repeat the cycle.


I wrote...

Imperial Sunset (Ashes of Empire)

By Eric Thomson,

Book cover of Imperial Sunset (Ashes of Empire)

What is my book about?

When humanity's first interstellar empire comes crashing down in a murderous civil war, one man fights to save his civilization's greatest treasure from the long night of barbarism — the knowledge and wisdom accumulated by countless societies over thousands of years. With that knowledge preserved, humanity might, one day, regain its place among the stars. But before Captain Jonas Morane, late of her Imperial Majesty’s Navy, can even begin his work to rescue as much as possible, he must lead a ragtag starship convoy through a wormhole network torn asunder by conflict and reach an almost forgotten world.

Barrayar

By Lois McMaster Bujold,

Book cover of Barrayar: Volume 3

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.


Who am I?

I’ve been in love with science fiction since I watched Star Wars for the first time at the age of seven, and haven’t looked back since. Besides being a voracious lifelong reader, I’ve written several dozen science fiction books myself, and my favorite sub-genre is space opera. I’ve read most of the Hugo and Nebula-winning novels, as well as several that those awards have overlooked, and my stories have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Again, Hazardous Imaginings, After Dinner Conversation, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and Twilight Tales LTUE Benefit Anthology.


I wrote...

Brothers in Exile

By Joe Vasicek,

Book cover of Brothers in Exile

What is my book about?

Deep in the Far Outworlds, a derelict space station holds the bones of a long-dead people—and a beautiful young woman locked in cryofreeze. When the star-wandering brothers Isaac and Aaron Deltana find the sleeping girl, they soon realize they're her only hope for rescue. With no way to revive her, they set a course for the New Pleiades. After a series of brutal civil wars, the Gaian Empire has turned its sights outward. A frontier war is on the verge of breaking out, and the brothers are about to be caught in the middle of it.

They both harbor a secret. Somewhere in the Outworlds is another derelict station—one that they used to call home. That secret will either bind them together or draw them apart.

Flesh And Gold (Lyhhrt Trilogy)

By Phyllis Gotlieb,

Book cover of Flesh And Gold (Lyhhrt Trilogy)

By now, it should be clear I like trilogies, reading and writing them. The Lyhhrt Trilogy is a perfect example of incredible imagination and wordsmith talent. As in some of my writings, there is palpable lyrical style and a dense compositional approach to a story that explores the awful and worming guts that must be, de facto, the only way any vast empire can form, emboweled and ejected into reality. The Galactic Federation here is a hostage of the nobility or despicable evilness of those carrying authority in the governing organization: game of thrones anyone? The spine of the story, as in The Law, is of a GalFed Judge who realizes cruelty and slavery are the crude reality in an empire focused on satisfying the same base urges that humanity spends so much energy on today. A well envisioned complicated and messy universe, the way it should be.


Who am I?

My dad was a subscriber of “Astounding Stories." If you know the magazine, it is famous not only because it featured the giants of science fiction genre, but also for its colorful and imaginative covers. I didn’t have the right to read those stories until later, when dad thought I could understand them, but I loved the covers and imagined myself stories which started from them or used the scenes as inspiration for a short story which I wrote for myself. The science fiction bug wormed into my brain at that time. Then, I just devoured every novel which landed at home and kept writing. 


I wrote...

The Law

By Massimo Marino,

Book cover of The Law

What is my book about?

Tancredi Gilmor is one of the Law Scholars at the Tribunal of Ahthaza, the capital planet of the subjugated Kritas race. When the Tribunal adopts tougher measures against the mounting turmoils, and the marines tighten their grip on the population, violence escalates and Tancredi is confronted with the brutality of the space marines' oppression; his steadfast loyalty to The Law falters and puts his role within the Tribunal at risk.

Tancredi's behavior intrigues Mekte, a young female Kritas who sees in him the hope for a change. As a member of the Kritas insurgence, Mekte risks everything to meet with Tancredi in secret, believing that together they can and must change the world.

War World

By John F. Carr (editor),

Book cover of War World: Discovery

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.


Who am I?

Science fiction has always been a passion of mine and, paradoxically, so has history. I lost count long ago of how many historical treatises and historical fiction books I’ve read alongside the science fiction classics, especially those with a military flavor. I was also an Army officer, both regular and reserve, for most of my adult life, and gleefully tore through the recommended Army reading list, much of which focused on military history. Combining my interest in history with my military experience and my love for science fiction led me to create a future universe where empires rise, grow old, and collapse only to be reborn and repeat the cycle.


I wrote...

Imperial Sunset (Ashes of Empire)

By Eric Thomson,

Book cover of Imperial Sunset (Ashes of Empire)

What is my book about?

When humanity's first interstellar empire comes crashing down in a murderous civil war, one man fights to save his civilization's greatest treasure from the long night of barbarism — the knowledge and wisdom accumulated by countless societies over thousands of years. With that knowledge preserved, humanity might, one day, regain its place among the stars. But before Captain Jonas Morane, late of her Imperial Majesty’s Navy, can even begin his work to rescue as much as possible, he must lead a ragtag starship convoy through a wormhole network torn asunder by conflict and reach an almost forgotten world.

Foundation

By Isaac Asimov,

Book cover of Foundation

Foundation was inspired by Gibbons’ History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and it shows. The series spans millennia, with dark ages and rediscoveries, civilization versus barbarism and naked imperial aggression. Asimov was not the first writer to create a “future history” (Olaf Stapledon’s Starmaker predates it by more than a decade) but he certainly brought the concept to popular consciousness. Thought-provoking and dizzying in scope, Foundation remains a bedrock of modern science fiction. 


Who am I?

I’m a professional science fiction writer, and a lifelong devotee of the genre. It lets us taste the future, reflect on the past, careen into alternate realities, and plunge into places of dream and nightmare. My own contributions appear in the world’s leading magazines, numerous anthologies, and novels of the far future (including Redspace Rising and Ten Thousand Thunders). I simply adore the genre, and how it dares us to walk into utopias, dystopias, and the depths of human spirit. 


I wrote...

Redspace Rising

By Brian Trent,

Book cover of Redspace Rising

What is my book about?

In the far future revenge does not stop with death.

Harris Alexander Pope is the man who ended the Partisan War on Mars. All he seeks now is solitude and a return to the life that was stolen from him. Yet when he learns that the worst war criminals are hiding in other bodies, he is forced into an interplanetary pursuit. Teaming up with other survivors eager for their own brand of vengeance, Harris begins to suspect a darker truth: Maybe what he remembers about the war isn't what happened at all…

On Basilisk Station

By David Weber,

Book cover of On Basilisk Station

The first Honor Harrington book, On Basilisk Station, is space opera the way it should be written. Weber’s space navy isn’t ‘pew, pew’ laser bolts, it’s cool and well-thought-out hard sci-fi. Technology leads to tactics; tactics lead to strategy; and strategy wins and loses wars. And then he drops Lieutenant Honor Harrington, fresh out of the academy, down in the middle of it, with her first ship. She’s a great character with the strength, skill, and courage to do her duty, figuring out which rules of war to follow and which ones to break, to win through to victory. And Weber never forgets the personal cost of war, which lends his books that extra impact. The first book in a great series.


Who am I?

Like so many boys, I grew up playing soldiers with my friends. Now I’m a trained historian and running around waving a stick as a pretend rifle yelling rat-a-tat, or sword fighting with fallen branches, just isn’t a good look for me. But I can still appreciate the heroism of soldiers that drew me to play those games in the first place. These books scratch that itch, as well as meeting the standard of truthfulness that the historian in me needs. Believable settings with heroes you can root for and stakes that feel real. That’s what I like to read and that’s what I write.


I wrote...

Prentice Ash

By Matt Barron,

Book cover of Prentice Ash

What is my book about?

Trained as a knight, condemned as a heretic, exiled as a convict, Prentice’s every moment is a struggle just to survive. 

The duke is dead and young Duchess Amelia, now rules the Western Reach alone. When an unknown enemy invades her lands, slaughtering all in their path, her knights are too eager for glory to see the danger. She is forced to turn to Prentice, a convict, skilled at warfare and the only one she can trust despite the dishonour. Thrust into the front lines, Prentice must fight the violence of the enemy and foolishness of his own commanders. In battle he will earn the name Prentice Ash, for no matter how intense the fires of war, even if all burns away, Ash will remain.

Star Of Gypsies

By Robert Silverberg,

Book cover of Star Of Gypsies

I'd never known anything about Gypsy culture (except cinematic stereotypes) until I read Silverberg's Star of Gypsies. Even though this book takes place on other worlds, centuries into the future, the traditions and the society of Gypsies survives. These nomadic spacefarers have evolved into important pieces of a galactic empire – an empire upon which the protagonist will have a profound effect. I loved the inventive world building and the complex yet often humorous main character, Yakoub. The tale fully engaged me from the very beginning and is one of those books I give my highest compliment – a page-turner you don't want to put down.


Who am I?

I've always been interested in Native American culture, while at the same time horrified at the way most European settlers treated them. (My best friend as a child was Native American.) Without consciously planning on it, many of my other books and short stories feature Native American customs and characters—though not as thoroughly as Red Sky, Blue Moon. I've also always been fascinated by Viking history, though I only recently discovered I'm a direct descendant of a fairly famous Viking—Rollo. I had no particular expertise with these cultures when I began this book, but I spent many hours of research to be sure I got everything right.


I wrote...

Red Sky, Blue Moon

By Bruce Golden,

Book cover of Red Sky, Blue Moon

What is my book about?

On an alien world where various Earth cultures have been transplanted centuries ago by otherworldly scientists, a Viking society evolves over the centuries into a cutthroat corporate culture of racial purists in an early industrial civilization. They have designs on the lands of a nearby continent where tribes of Sioux still cling to their old ways. War ensues, and at the core of the conflict is a native herb that may be the cure for a disease that ravages the corporatocracy, as well as being the secret to longevity.

It turns out the Vikings and the Sioux are not the only cultures transported to this world and, ultimately, this great speciation experiment will have unexpected and dire consequences for the experimenters. 

Shards of Honor

By Lois McMaster Bujold,

Book cover of Shards of Honor: Volume 2

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.


Who am I?

I’ve been in love with science fiction since I watched Star Wars for the first time at the age of seven, and haven’t looked back since. Besides being a voracious lifelong reader, I’ve written several dozen science fiction books myself, and my favorite sub-genre is space opera. I’ve read most of the Hugo and Nebula-winning novels, as well as several that those awards have overlooked, and my stories have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Again, Hazardous Imaginings, After Dinner Conversation, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and Twilight Tales LTUE Benefit Anthology.


I wrote...

Brothers in Exile

By Joe Vasicek,

Book cover of Brothers in Exile

What is my book about?

Deep in the Far Outworlds, a derelict space station holds the bones of a long-dead people—and a beautiful young woman locked in cryofreeze. When the star-wandering brothers Isaac and Aaron Deltana find the sleeping girl, they soon realize they're her only hope for rescue. With no way to revive her, they set a course for the New Pleiades. After a series of brutal civil wars, the Gaian Empire has turned its sights outward. A frontier war is on the verge of breaking out, and the brothers are about to be caught in the middle of it.

They both harbor a secret. Somewhere in the Outworlds is another derelict station—one that they used to call home. That secret will either bind them together or draw them apart.

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