Four Hard Science Fiction Books You Should Read

The last title of the Expanse series is a callback to the title of the first.

A genre made popular by the recent explosion of the Expanse by James SA Corey and its television adaptation, hard science fiction is a genre with a history as old as science fiction itself. With the series complete, this is the time to explore other greats of the genre, including one with a future movie adaptation by none other than Dennis Villeneuve.

We’re about to experience a renaissance of science fiction movies and television. With luck, more of these books will be adapted soon.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold's flair for the existential vastness of space is evoked in the series cover art

Alastair Reynolds began his career as an astrophysicist working for the European Space Agency. He is an extremely prolific writer of short stories, many of which take place in the Revelation Space setting and provide the novels with greater context. Read this book if you are looking for epic interstellar adventures at sub-light speeds.

Check out my essay on mind uploading in fiction if you want to read about Revelation Space and related works.

Blue Collar Space by Martin L. Shoemaker

A commercial shuttle is seen leaving a ring station

Blue Collar Space is a rejection of “Big Man Science Fiction” that focuses on the people who built the future those larger-than-life characters exist in. Its subjects include civil engineers on the moon, father-daughter lunar hikes gone wrong, and other examples of people living their lives and saving humanity in less glamorous ways. Read it if you want to be immersed in lives that our descendants might one day live out in space.

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

This is another series that gets the vastness of space right

Of the four books on this list “Gardens of the Sun” has the most in common with the Expanse. It envisions a future where Earth has been wracked by climate change and the remaining authoritarian empires on Earth devote most of their resources to shape and rebuild the ruined environment. Genetic engineering has made many things impossible, including novel synthetic ecosystems in the outer solar system. With Earth’s governments on the verge of developing a new and improved fusion engine, the many settlements of the solar system are wary of an increased Earth presence in the outer solar system. Read this book if you want a future mix of political scheming, warfare, and hopeful but sometimes strange depictions of future science.

I also just learned that you can get the Quiet War and its Sequel Gardens of the Sun in one big omnibus edition. I’ll be doing a re-read of this series soon so keep yours eyes out for more posts about it.

Rendevous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Perhaps the most minimalist title of the bunch

A classic of the hard science fiction genre. “Rendevous With Rama” is a science fiction classic that follows a group of astronauts sent on a detour to a massive alien ship that is using our Sun to perform a slingshot maneuver. While the governments of Earth and the other planets debate how to respond to the object, the scientists of Earth scramble to understand the object and advise a team of accidental explorers on how to make the best use of their limited time exploring the object. Read this book if you want a story that evokes a sense of the unknowable and the vast scale of our universe. You should also read it if you plan to watch the upcoming Dennis Vilneuve adaptation.

A First Look at Brian McClellan’s Latest Epic Fantasy Novel

Brian McClellan’s new epic fantasy novel from Tor, In The Shadow Of Lightning, is finally out.

I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I am so excited about this book that I decided to start with a review of the prologue. Some might consider prologues to be annoying, but I think this is an example of a prologue done right. Just to be clear, there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

McClellan is one of the more prominent authors in the flintlock fantasy subgenre and helped it make it popular with his debut novel Promise of Blood. I’ve been a big fan for ten years now and for the past year, I’ve been included in McClellan’s “Street Team” group chat. I wasn’t able to beta-read the book, but it’s been fun to get a look behind the curtain at a book as it is being written. I can’t wait to read it and take about it with you all and I already think this book is worth your time.

It’s set in a world of industrial magic, where huge factories churn out magical glass called cindersand. Society runs on this vital resource, and it’s running out. But the wealthy guild families of Ossa aren’t about to let something as minor as the death of magic to stop them from scheming.

The book begins with our MC Demir accepting the surrender of a defeated city. Instead of killing its leader and decimating its population (killing 1 in 10) as is tradition, Demir declares his intention to spare the city. After all, they would not have rebelled if they didn’t have legitimate grievances. Right from the beginning we see Demir as someone with a conscience and a strong sense of right and wrong. And then the schemes of others breaks him.

While he had been busy accepting the city’s surrender someone else had been busy distributing counterfeit orders to his officers. The falsified orders in question instructed the army to raze the city. Demir was too late. His own soldiers fail to recognize him and push him aside. When they find him the next morning he is cradling the body of a young girl who was trampled by his cavalry.


If this first look at In The Shadow Of Lightning has you interested then you should definitely pick the book up or listen to it on Audible. Audiobooks are a great way to keep up with current fiction on your drive to work. You can also follow me on Twitter if you want to chat about it or be the first to know when my full review is posted.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Like many, my first introduction to Altered Carbon was through the Netflix adaptation.

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels Book 1) by [Richard K. Morgan]

We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.

The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.

The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.

The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?

I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.

A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians by H. G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel (The Shadow Histories Book 1) by [H. G. Parry]

If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.

“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.

From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.

How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.

But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.

Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle here.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1) by [Alastair Reynolds]
Book One of the Inhibitor Trilogy

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks. It’s helped to make tedious tasks more enjoyable, and it has helped me cross A LOT of books off of my to-be-read list. A few of these books have been Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Trilogy. These books have me obsessed.

For those who don’t know, Alastair Reynolds is a prolific science fiction author who studied astrophysics with the European Space Agency. He holds a doctorate in astronomy and his experience shines through in his writing.

He has an incredibly engaging style that he peppers with just the right amount of scientific jargon to make his settings convincing. He also does an amazing job of bringing seemingly disparate story threads together at the end in ways so obvious in retrospect.

I could go on and on about why I like these books. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that Reynolds does very well. Conflict. Or should I call it fluff? You know those fight scenes that drag on too long or the infiltrations that seem a little too contrived? I know I can’t be the only one, which is why I was so happy when Reynolds chose to fade to black for those scenes that another author might instead drag along for a chapter or two.

That’s not to say that these books don’t have fight scenes or are free of violence, but Reynolds seems to know exactly how much of the fight we need to be shown, and much of the violence in the series takes place between starships. Starships so far apart that a commander will not know if their attack was successful for several hours. In a book like this, conflict is best shown through the thoughts and worries of the commanders rather than the minutia that many authors get stuck in.

Fantastic books. 5/5. Go read.