The entire nerd-world is foaming at the mouth over Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We hope the movie will be all that and a bag of chips, and based on the teasers, trailer and set photos, it’s shaping up to be everything fans hope it will be (despite any prequel-related PTSD). However, during the excruciating wait for the film’s premiere on December 18, why not feast your brain on a great science fiction novel? Most sci-fi experts will tell you to read Foundation and Dune (if you haven’t read them, get off the internet and read them now. I’ll wait.), but there are some less-obvious choices that will appeal to Star Wars fans for the same reasons they love the films —rich world-building, exhilarating action and the dynamic characters.
If you love being sucked into a complex, lived-in world:
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (Orbit, 2008)
If you’re looking for a fascinating, complicated universe that features artificial intelligence, unique alien civilizations and epic conflicts, the buck stops at Scottish author Iain M. Banks’s critically acclaimed Culture Series. Set in a distant and post-scarcity future, “the Culture” is a utopian, far-reaching and somewhat aloof society made up of humanoids, aliens and deep-thinking AI. Consider Phelbas, centered on the Culture’s war with a theocratic alien civilization, is the first story written in the universe, but there are nine other loosely connected books set in the Culture for you to delve into.
If you like imposing villains who wear a lot of black:
The Shrike, the primary antagonist of Dan Simmons’s Hugo Award-winning Hyperion Cantos book series, is arguably the most intriguing, intimidating and fearsome villain in modern science fiction. Also known as “The Lord of Pain,” the Shrike is a large humanoid robot covered in sharp blades and thorns, famous for kidnapping and impaling innocent people on a metal spike tree from another dimension. That may sound pretty gruesome (it is), but don’t get the wrong impression of Hyperion — it’s a deeply philosophical novel (influenced by the Canterbury Tales no less!) with compelling characters, a unique mixture of genres and perspectives, and an ending that demands you read the next book immediately. It more than deserves its status as a modern sci-fi classic. The Hyperion Cantos are a quadrilogy, but be warned – the second two books in the series, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, are drastically and controversially different from the first two, so read them at your own risk!
If you’re looking for some magic and swashbuckling in your science fiction:
The Price of the Stars by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald (Tor Science Fiction, 1992)
Are you more into the old-school space opera stories that originally inspired Star Wars? Then check out the Mageworlds Series, created by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. The Price of the Stars is the first installment of the trilogy, surrounding a badass female space captain searching for the assassins of her diplomat mother. Cross-dressing, mystery, action-packed Ocean’s 11-esque heists, magical space wizards and snarky dialogue occur. Plus, when you finish the trilogy, there are plenty of prequels to keep you occupied!
If you like sci-fi fantasy with an edge:
Saga Vol. 1 written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics, 2012)
Graphic novels and science fiction are a marriage made in heaven, and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Hugo Award-winning Saga comic series is filled with beautiful images of a world populated by crazy aliens, artificially intelligent assassins and talking cats. This edgy series is sexy, foul-language-filled, comedic and heartfelt, centering on the story of two people from opposite sides of an interstellar war trying to keep their newborn child safe in a universe that’s out to get them. If you’ve ever wanted to find a sprawling, epic and ultimately human story similar to Star Wars but with a more grown-up feel, you need to pick up these graphic novels.
If you’re a fan of awesome space battles:
Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell (Ace, Reissue 2006)
Your favorite parts of Star Wars are the X-wing battles and you’re also fond of space commandos ala Aliens. No problem. Check out Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet Series, which begins with Dauntless. The books tell the story of a legendary space hero thought to be dead for a century, but who is discovered in cryogenic stasis and revived only to realize that the war he “died” fighting hasn’t ended yet. With a fleet of warships he finds himself commanding, he has to fight his way out of enemy territory, leading to some pretty fantastic descriptions of battles between interstellar warships.