Skip to main content

A friend of my husbands posed me a question; he has a quandary. He loathes worldbuilding. Matter-a-fact, a series he recently enjoyed was the Silo series by Hugh Howey because it takes place in a silo…a big concrete tube. There were no lustrious declarations on the beauty of the rolling hills or waxing poetically about the shape and texture of an antique doorknob. It is a fu*cking tube made of concrete; we can proceed with the story now. That got me thinking about what I gravitate to in a story myself. With minimal personal reflection, it is easy to see that while I don’t go quite to the aesthetic level of my husband’s friend about the surroundings, I am drawn to character-driven stories. Ever since I read Lord of the Rings while knowing its impact on fantasy at large, I refer to it as the “we’re walking, we’re walking” story. I connect with characters; I empathize with them, I squeak with delight, shudder in terror, or melt at a lovely moment because characters have taken me to that place.

On the heels of the thought experiment of “what are the most character-driven stories in SFF,” I have compiled a list of some of my favorites in case you are like me and want the “concrete tube” type of story.

Hugh Howey

Wool Omnibus

This Omnibus Edition collects the five Wool books into a single volume.

The first Wool story was released as a standalone short in July of 2011. Due to reviewer demand, the rest of the story was released over the next six months.

This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

C.J. Cherryh

The Faded Sun Trilogy

Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge – Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them – and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.

James S.A. Corey

The Expanse

From a New York Times bestselling and Hugo award-winning author comes a modern masterwork of science fiction, introducing a captain, his crew, and a detective as they unravel a horrifying solar system wide conspiracy that begins with a single missing girl. Now a Prime Original series. 

Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond—but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written.” —George R. R. Martin

The Expanse
Leviathan Wakes
Caliban’s War
Abaddon’s Gate
Cibola Burn
Nemesis Games
Babylon’s Ashes
Persepolis Rising
Tiamat’s Wrath
​Leviathan Falls

Memory’s Legion

The Expanse Short Fiction
Drive
The Butcher of Anderson Station

Gods of Risk
The Churn
The Vital Abyss
Strange Dogs
Auberon
The Sins of Our Fathers

John Scalzi

Old Man's War

Perfect for an entry-level sci-fi reader and the ideal addition to a veteran fan’s collection, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War will take audiences on a heart-stopping adventure into the far corners of the universe.

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-and aliens willing to fight for them are common. The universe, it turns out, is a hostile place.

So: we fight. To defend Earth (a target for our new enemies, should we let them get close enough) and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force, which shields the home planet from too much knowledge of the situation. What’s known to everybody is that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve your time at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine-and what he will become is far stranger.

Old Man’s War Series
#1 Old Man’s War
#2 The Ghost Brigades
#3 The Last Colony
#4 Zoe’s Tale
#5 The Human Division
#6 The End of All Things
Short fiction: “After the Coup”

Robert Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert Heinlein’s Hugo Award-winning all-time masterpiece, the brilliant novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a science fiction classic.

Raised by Martians on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has never seen another member of his species. Sent to Earth, he is a stranger who must learn what it is to be a man. But his own beliefs and his powers far exceed the limits of humankind, and as he teaches them about grokking and water-sharing, he also inspires a transformation that will alter Earth’s inhabitants forever…

Gene Wolfe

Shadow & Claw

“A major work of twentieth-century American literature…Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within…once into it, there is no stopping.” ­―The New York Times on The Book of the New Sun

Gene Wolfe has been called “the finest writer the science fiction world has yet produced” by the Washington Post.

THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is unanimously acclaimed as Wolfe’s most remarkable work, hailed as “a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis” by Publishers Weekly and “one of the most ambitious works of speculative fiction in the twentieth century” by the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The Shadow of the Torturer is the first volume in this four-volume epic, the tale of young Severian, an apprentice to the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession- showing mercy toward his victim.

The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient relic and learn the truth about his hidden destiny.

“A masterpiece…the best science fiction I’ve read in years!” –Ursula K. Le Guin

This new Tor Essentials edition of Shadow & Claw contains a new introduction by historian and novelist Ada Palmer, author of the award-winning Too Like the Lightning.

Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW AN EXCITING SERIES FROM NETFLIX • The shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning in this “tour de force of genre-bending, a brilliantly realized exercise in science fiction.”—The New York Times Book Review

In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”) making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.

Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Dispatched one hundred eighty light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats “existence” as something that can be bought and sold.

Read My Interview With Richard K. Morgan

Andy Weir

The Martian

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

 

Read Our Interview With Andy Weir

Leave a Reply