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 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
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
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
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.