The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.
Today is Space Day! And it’s a Friday!
Once upon a time, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut—probably like a lot of other kids. I was obsessed with space. I knew the planets, the moons, I learned as much as I could and devoured everything in my Handy Space Exploration Book (this was uh, pre-ubiquitous wi-fi). I gave presentations on space and NASA as much as I could. This was alongside my dreams of becoming a large animal veterinarian, and it was only when I realized just how bad my eyesight was and how decidedly average I am that space exploration was off the cards for me in any physical sense.
But media consumption and creation wise?
Space is the place to let your imagination soar.
Physics be damned.
Here are twelve science fiction books set in space—six I read and loved, and six on my TBR!
Six I Loved
While many other science fiction/sciencey books are high up there, I wanted to pick some where space heavily featured, or where space ships were predominant as more than just a setting (see: Vorkosigan Saga) or medium through which to be transported (see: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley). And I wanted to highlight women authors for my favorites list, as much as I love books like The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts or The Expanse series by James SA Corey or The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi or Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee or An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon.
Arranged in no particular order because I’m feeling rather chaotic today.
Network Effect by Martha Wells (2020)
Of course I’m going to put Murderbot in here. While a lot of the books are set either on a space station or on a planet, there are huge chunks in space, and while Murderbot is mainly using them for transport, a lot of the plot and development happens there, particularly when ART is involved. Which is why I picked the novel, Network Effect instead of All Systems Red. However, this entire series is very spacey, very fantastic, and absolutely wonderful. Although yes, it does stretch my definition and parameters quite a bit. But if I’m not picking the Vorkosigan series or Ancillary Justice, then I need to throw some Murderbot in there to even things out.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (2018)
I absolutely loved this alternate history setting where an asteroid destroys most of the American east coast in 1952, and the world must scramble to figure out a way to save humanity—namely, colonize the solar system. It’s brilliant (although there is quite a bit of much deserved criticism), and the rest of the series is equally fantastic. I really liked Elma York, for all her brilliance and flaws and anxiety, and I really liked the subplot of what happens to those who stay behind, which is explored in later books.
Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon (2003)
To be fair, back when I read this (way back in high school, I think?), I only gave this one three stars (granted, I joined Goodreads a hot minute after high school). Not sure why, and it means I probably need to reread this again. But I really liked Ky Vatta, who flunked out of space academy school for ~reasons~ and then joined her family’s merchant fleet. It’s a great mix of politics, coming of age and space piratey stuff, and is overall really good. There are five books in the series, and I also highly recommend the Serrano series by the same author (although the first three books are meh from my hazy memory, I really, really liked Once a Hero).
The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley (2017)
This bad boy slips more into body horror than anything else, with a main character whose memory is on the fritz after being rebooted time and time again by her ex-girlfriend in order to win an unwinnable war. It’s fantastic, stellar and spacey as fuck. It’s a world where everyone is a woman, and the world continues by the women literally giving birth to whatever is needed—from ship parts to children to engines—and their ranking is based upon what they birth.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
Despite having the now-fairly-common plot device of sending teenagers into space to save humanity for ~reasons~, this one was an adult novel with teens placed alongside adult astronauts on a mission to discover Terra-Two, create a link between the two worlds, and save humanity. This is a book that explores the hope of going to a new planet and the journey in between, along with the many perils of twenty-three years in space. There are so many subplots and themes in this one that it’s hard to sum up other than: read it.
Dead Space by Kali Wallace
Okay so this is set more on a mining asteroid than space-space, but hear me out. Space and vacuum feature very heavily, and this covers a lot of the exploration, isolation, consequences and realistic corporate futures of well, the future. It was grim, not super hopeful, but a really, really intense murder-mystery thriller set in a confined area with Evil AIs and a disabled main character. I really think that fans of The Expanse or The Luminous Dead will like this one (and yes, those are two completely different books on a completely different tone), but whew this book was just so good.
- SJ Kincaid’s Insignia Trilogy (YA)
- Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather
- The Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
- To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
- Goldilocks by Laura Lam
Six on My TBR
For these, I picked a couple long-time lurkers and some new releases I’m really excited about. The blurbs are from Goodreads, because I am lazy like that.
Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh (1981)
The Beyond started with the Stations orbiting the stars nearest Earth. The Great Circle the interstellar freighters traveled was long but not unmanageable, and the early Stations were dependent on Mohter Earth. The Earth Company which ran this immense operation repeated incalculable profits and influenced the affairs of nations. Then came Pell, the first Station centered around a newly-discovered living planet, forever altering the power balance of Beyond.
Dawn by Octavia Butler (1987)
Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.
Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds (2000)
Nine hundred thousand years ago, something annihilated the Amarantin civilization just as it was on the verge of discovering space flight. Now one scientist, Dan Sylveste, will stop at nothing to solve the Amarantin riddle before ancient history repeats itself. With no other resources at his disposal, Sylveste forges a dangerous alliance with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. But as he closes in on the secret, a killer closes in on him.
Edges by Linda Nagata (2019)
No one knows for sure what caused the Hallowed Vasties to fail, but a hardened adventurer named Urban intends to find out. He has the resources to do it. He commands a captive alien starship fully capable of facing the dangers that lie beyond Deception Well.
With a ship’s company of explorers and scientists, Urban is embarking on a voyage of re-discovery. They will be the first in centuries to confront the hazards of an inverted frontier as they venture back along the path of human migration. Their goal: to unravel the mystery of the Hallowed Vasties and to discover what monstrous life might have grown up among the ruins.
Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe (2019)
Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.
We Have Always Been here by Lena Nguyen (2021)
Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship–all specialists in their own fields–as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility. Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes–and that’s when things begin to fall apart.
- Starfang: Rise of the Clan by Joyce Chng
- Nophek Glass by Essa Hansen
- The rest of the Expanse series
- Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee