A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge – 1992
Hugo award winner
Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from super-intelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing this galactic threat, Ravna crash lands on a strange world with a ship-hold full of cryogenically frozen children, the only survivors from a destroyed space-lab. They are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle.
“With uninterrupted pacing, suspense without contrivance, and deftly drawn aliens who can be pleasantly comical without becoming cute, Vinge offers heart-pounding, mind-expanding science fiction at its best.”
Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh – 1981
The Locus magazine (which gives out an award each year that is just as prestigious as the Hugo or Nebula) listed this Hugo winner as one of the top 50 science fiction novels of all time.
An excellent novel that takes place in space, Downbelow Station is filled with realistic characters who are under tremendous stress because they live on a vulnerable but extremely important space station in the middle of an ongoing war, which is why it’s so popular.
In Cherryh’s Union-Alliance series, Downbelow Station is one of the main characters. Despite being distinct and complete in their own right, they form part of a larger tapestry that spans 5,000 years of human history.
There is something about Cherryh that we can’t get enough of…
captivates and engrosses us from beginning to end…
always thoughtful and amusing in her prose.”
The Publishers’ Syndicate
Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers – 2016
Hail Bristol is well-known throughout the galaxy as one of the most dangerous gunrunners. Even if she tries, she’ll never be able to forget her past life as a runaway princess of the Indranan Empire, which took place twenty years ago. Her mother’s family has finally arrived to bring her back to her mother’s house.
Indrana’s only heir, Hail, is dragged back to her Indrana, and trading her ship for a palace is her most dangerous move yet.
An “outstanding debut in the science fiction adventure genre.”
publishingweekly.com (starred review)
The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel – 2016
A young officer and her lover find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation and a deadly conspiracy deep in space.
Treiko Zajec, Elena Shaw’s lover, is the prime suspect in the murder of Danny, a fellow Central Corps crew member, on the colony of Volhynia. She knows Trey is innocent because he was with her at the time Danny was shot and killed. How do we know who the real killer is, and why are the cops trying to frame an innocent man?
An “intriguing mix of military science fiction and vintage crime noir.”
Artemis by Andy Weir – 2017
In terms of quality, Artemis isn’t quite as good as The Martian. Hard science, wit, and a charmingly cynical protagonist all made an appearance in Andy Weir’s follow-up to The Martian.
However, this is the best depiction of a lunar colony that I’ve ever come across.
Artemis tells the story of a young, super-smart but lazy criminal on the moon who goes for a major score and gets herself into a heap of trouble. Entertaining plotting, creative problem-solving, and the occasional explosions all contribute to the success of this novel.
“A first-rate action-packed techno-thriller…
It is the ideal vehicle for humans who wish to escape the gravity of Earth for a short period of time “The time flies by as the pages turn.”
Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres – 2007
God is discovered by a mineral scout while he is lost in space due to a navigational error. As soon as word spreads, students from all over Orion’s universities scramble to win favor with the Entity. The “god” of Orion is not revered by everyone on the planet. Some, such as Scolar’s philosophers and Extropy’s Transhumans, are extremely wary.
Interstellar academic politics, intellectual conceit and dubious theology are Baronessa Mira Fedor’s forte. The invasion of a race of giant tardigrades has wreaked havoc on her homeworld. However, OLOSS is occupied with communicating with God, so they are unable to provide assistance. It’s up to Mira and the obnoxious misogynist Jo-Jo Rasterovich to scavenge for assistance. As a result, a galactic-scale conspiracy is revealed. But will she be able to tell anyone about it before she dies?
This space opera is described as “engaging” and “full of action.”
The Publishers’ Syndicate
Skeen’s Leap by Jo Clayton – 1986
When it comes to plundering rare artifacts from alien civilizations, Skeen is known as a bandit who is always one ship-length ahead of intergalactic law. With no choice but to follow rumors to a supposed fortune in gems hidden among ancient ruins, she now finds herself penniless and abandoned on a miserable backwater planet at the end of a string of very bad luck. Instead, she discovers a doorway to another world—and a universe filled with peril.
Clayton’s style is lively, vivid, and lyrical, which helps him create convincing aliens and alien worlds.
—Book Reviews of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Gateway by Frederik Pohl – 1977
Hugo and Nebula award-winning author.
The mysterious, long-dead alien race known as the Heechee has left behind a trove of priceless artifacts that have been scattered across the galaxy. Those who pay the right price can board one of the castoff Heechee spaceships and set out on an autopilot journey to uncharted territory in the hopes of striking it rich…or losing their lives.
Robinette Broadhead took a chance and made a profit as a result of her gamble. The question is, however, at what price? A millionaire’s lifestyle isn’t enough to shield him from the crippling despair and the dark secrets buried deep inside his mind. Broadhead’s computerized psychiatrist can help him uncover the truth about what happened “out there.” After a much more terrifying and ultimately devastating journey on his own terms than his final trip into space had been.
“It was a wonderful experience.”
New York Times Book Review—
Player of Games by Iain M. Banks – 1988
Gurgeh is one of the best Game Players to come out of the Culture, which is a human/machine symbiotic society. Jernau Morat Gurgeh, the Gamer. An expert on every game board and computer system there is. When Gurgeh grows tired of success, he travels to the cruel and opulent Empire of Azad to participate in their fantastic game…a game so complex and lifelike that the victor becomes emperor. His life is in jeopardy if he accepts the game, which he has been mocked and blackmailed into taking part in.
For the joy of breaking the rules, “An exquisitely riotous tour de force of the imagination.”
—Take a Breather
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – 1974
Hugo and Nebula award-winning author.
William Mandella, a physics student, was conscripted into service for the United Nations Exploratory Force, a highly trained unit built for revenge, and he fights for his home planet against the Taurans.
The Earth Mandella returns to after a two-year experience on the other side of the galaxy is a completely new and disturbing place to him because of the relative passage of time when traveling at such high speeds.
An acclaimed work of military science fiction, The Forever War was partly inspired by the author’s own experiences in Vietnam. It captures the sense of isolation that service members and veterans still feel even after they return home from combat.