It’s no secret that we’re in the middle of something of a renaissance in terms of Star Wars books. Aftermath and associated titles have been far better than they have any right to be, and high profile fantasy authors like Ken Liu are also going to be contributing to the established canon (I am SO excited for his take on Luke Skywalker). So it’s only fair, I think, that Star Wars fans travel in the other direction, too: take a look outside of the galaxy far, far away and into the worlds imagined by other writers. There’s so many amazing sci fi books out there right now- plenty to tide us over until The Last Jedi and associated materials come out!
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This is the book I would thrust at anyone looking to expand their sci-fi reading outside of Star Wars. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is about the crew of the Wayfarer, a wormhole builder that’s been contracted to go to a dangerous area of space. However, it’s not really a story about a mission so much as it is about a found family trying to pull together into being a crew- and as such, it’s perfect if you’re a fan of Campaign (which, if you’re reading this, you probably are). This book is one of the most genuinely warm stories I’ve ever read: while its characters go through their fair share of hardship, there’s room for growth and moments of sincere friendship and love between them, too. It’s a very hopeful story about the power of understanding one another and the kind of family you choose for yourself. In that way, it’s very Star Wars indeed.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit is for all you strategy nerds! Ninefox Gambit is the story of Kel Cheris, a disgraced Hexarchate general who has to redeem herself by retaking a strategically vital fortress. To help her, she’s got the disembodied spirit of the Hexarchate’s greatest traitor and strategic genius inside her head. This is a hard one to explain, because so much of what makes Ninefox Gambit great is also what makes it so difficult to recommend. It’s all about strategy and warfare, but it’s also very dense and strange: while Star Wars roots its military strategy in recognizable tactics and hardware, Ninefox Gambit builds a world where, for example, mathematical forumlae can reshape reality- if you all believe hard enough. It’s a fascinating read that builds a new and completely different world. If the military aspects of Star Wars sometimes leave you wishing for something a little more original, Ninefox Gambit is the book for you.
Imperial Radch Series by Ann Leckie
I LOVE THE IMPERIAL RADCH SERIES. Ever wonder what the Empire would be like if it was just a bit more technologically advanced and ruthless? What about if all the First Order stormtroopers weren’t brainwashed, but literal zombies reanimated and slaved by machinery to the AI of a troop carrier? And what if one of those troop carriers was destroyed, leaving a ship used to thousands of bodies with only one set of hands and one mind to work with? That’s just a portion of the pitch for the Imperial Radch series, which starts with Ancillary Justice. Leckie uses the sci fi setting to explore notions of gender and culture in a way that the Star Wars books are only beginning to touch on (the language of the Radch empire doesn’t recognise gender, for example, so the book’s narrator calls everyone ‘she), while religious and cultural differences between the Radch and the planets they conquer drives the plot of a large part of the second book. This is very smart sci fi that is, hopefully, paving the way for the Star Wars books to follow: read them now to see the way forward.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Okay, so this one is kind of on here because of the aforementioned Luke Skywalker book. And it’s not sci fi, it’s fantasy. But Ken Liu is an amazing writer, and if you want a taste of what his Luke Skywalker may be like, there are worse places to look than the first volume of his fantasy epic set around the fictional islands of Dara. I’m not going to pretend there are obvious Luke parallels in this book, but the book’s scope and imagination as well as the fondness with which it treats its characters give me real hope for The Legends of Luke Skywalker.
Olivia holds many opinions about Star Wars, a good deal of them contradictory. She loves Kylo Ren far, far too much. You can find her tweeting @liviwatka and rating various Sith Lords after minimal research at www.facebook.com/nevertellmethepods