This summer, the film trailer for Dune sparked readers to pick up Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel about young Paul Atreides trying to survive battles both political and physical on a planet essential to creating a drug called spice.
Those who want more Dune can of course read deeper into the series, which continues with five more books written by Frank Herbert and novels written by (son) Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
But we think the novels below are also rich in world building, scope, and characters—and are epic reads indeed.
The Stand by Stephen King
People still vividly remember their first reading of King’s The Stand. And after King released his “uncut” edition (1,200 pages!), many readers dived back into his ambitious story of a flu that wiped out most of humanity in a few weeks, giving rise to a new power structure. While King is known for delivering a cracking-good horror story, his true strength is his characters, and this book gives you plenty of time with the characters he builds. If you like to watch epic stories as well as read them, you’ll be happy to hear that a television miniseries of The Stand starts in December 2020 on CBS All Access.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
It’s not too often that American presidents praise science fiction (maybe because they know what’s really going on with Roswell and aliens and such), but Barack Obama has talked many times about Cixin Liu’s three-book series that starts with The Three-Body Problem. As Obama said in an interview with New York Times’ book critic Michiko Kakutani, these books are “just wildly imaginative, really interesting….The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress [then] seem fairly petty—not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade.” When it becomes clear that, indeed, aliens are about to invade Earth, the reaction on the ground to this event is as diverse as the people on the planet. I’ve recommended this series to a lot of people over the years, and readers have frequently responded that these books have won a spot on their all-time-favorites list.
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
Jemisin's award-winning Broken Earth series—which begins with The Fifth Season—showcases her outstanding world building and thoughtful, complex characters. In this series, people called orogenes have the power to control the earth, but this power is leashed by the Guardians, who control or kill orogenes as they see fit. Jemisin’s world is not a kind one, and we see through the eyes of three women how the caste system perpetrated by the Guardians’ power and the common people’s fear of orogenes serves only a few while oppressing many, giving rise to one orogene’s decision to end everything once and for all.
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I almost didn’t include this book because I figured, “Who hasn’t yet read A Game of Thrones?” And then I recalled that actually tons of people have seen the show but haven’t experienced the glory of the books. Less focused on sex and more focused on the serpentine politics that propel and destroy leaders, this (as yet unfinished) series gives readers even more stories with Tyrion. Which is a very good thing.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Martine’s novel about a brand-spanking-new ambassador thrust into high-stakes politics won the Hugo Award this year, and it was well deserved. Mahit is sent to the capital of the massive Teixcalaani empire to represent 30,000 hardy souls living in an independent mining station. But as Mahit is swallowed by sophisticated Teixcalaani protocols and traditions, she becomes the bone that sticks in the throat—unwilling to accept not only the story around her predecessor’s untimely death (or murder?) but also the empire’s desire to expand. Mahit’s gritty spywork and diplomatic sleight-of-hand in the face of overwhelming power make this space opera a page-turner. Book 2, A Desolation Called Peace, arrives in March 2021.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
Also now a TV series on Amazon Prime Video, the Expanse book series starts with Leviathan Wakes and ricochets among the power struggles between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. And when our hero James Holden discovers a way to travel to new parts of the universe, the race is on to be the first to exploit the new worlds. Readers who enjoy Paul Atreides' discovery of his own strengths, plus the complex cat-and-mouse games played between larger powers, will find a lot to like in the world of the Expanse.
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Set in the not-too-distant future, this dystopian novel by Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) revolves around the power and wealth of water ownership—really, water monopolies—in a parched United States. The action is intense, as is the visceral feel of aridity on every page. Keep a glass of water beside you as you read this book—you’ll appreciate both all the more.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Or maybe you haven’t yet read Dune! In reading this masterful story of a young man’s rise from a soft palace life to becoming a hardened (and future-seeing) leader of people, you’ll understand why Herbert’s novel became the high bar for science fiction. While the action of Dune takes place over a few decades, it’s apparent that the universe in Herbert’s mind stretches forward and back for a far longer time period, and he’s built the mythology to support it. But the heroic theology that sweeps through Dune is what captures readers. One of the most highlighted passages in Dune is this: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Good words to focus on during a year that’s delivered more than its fair share of fears.
Enjoyed 'Dune'? The Amazon Books editors have some recommendations for your next epic read.