Originally published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a cornerstone of science fiction. In spite of that, we’ve never gotten a film or TV adaptation that we can all band together and love. The 1984 David Lynch movie was widely panned. The 2000 and 2003 SyFy series were better, but dragged when they stuck too closely to the books.
Now, Denis Villeneuve is directing two feature films, the first due out later this year, and a new series, “Dune: The Sisterhood,” is in development for HBO Max. With all this buzz around new adaptations with bang-up casts including Dave Bautista, Oscar Isaacs, and Zendaya, everyone is clamboring for that Dune feel. If you’re keen on the original series of books, check out these books like Dune.
Books Like Dune
Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie
A space opera set in a massive galactic empire, Ancillary Justice tells the story of an AI, a fragment of what it once was, living in a human body after her ship was destroyed. Leckie’s book is a mystery that slowly unravels through political intrigue, philosophical discussions on artificial intelligence, and a layered plot with massive payoff.
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
In Dawn, Lilith wakes on an alien spaceship and slowly learns she’s been asleep for 250 years. Two-hundred and fifty years that have passed since thermonuclear war destroyed Earth. Butler’s book is a classic science fiction tale: through aliens, we see how ruinous and ridiculous humans are as a species. The Oankali have three genders and are anything but xenophobic, merging genetically with other civilizations to survive. Now, they want Lilith to be mother to the first Oankali/human child, but not everyone wants that.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The novel that brought N.K. Jemisin the first Hugo award for best novel to be won by a woman of color (and then the first trilogy to win Hugos for all three), The Fifth Season is a masterpiece. Set in a world caught in a cycle of catastrophe in which magic users are enslaved, Jemisin’s novel ranges from the very personal family narrative to world-spanning, cataclysmic action. Political and magical power go hand-in-hand, and there’s so much more under the surface than anyone knows about.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
In Hyperion, Dan Simmons rolls Canterbury Tales style. Set in a far future, several pilgrims are making their way to an Ouster planet (one not connected to others by a portal). Along the way, each tells their tale of how they were chosen for the journey. Over the course of six tales, Simmons paints a portrait of this universe: religions foreign and familiar, wars, family strife, political unrest, artificial intelligence, and the imposing Shrike who await at the end of their pilgrimage.
Jaran by Kate Elliott
The first of Kate Elliott’s The Jaran series, like Dune, focuses on a protagonist caught in the middle of interstellar politics, war, and intrigue. Tess is the sister of the former leader of Earth’s rebellion against alien invaders, but he’s been given a dukedom after his loss. Tess winds up at the crossroads between tradition and advancement, extinction and survival, and everything seems to hinge upon her.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Considered to be one of the first and finest examples of feminist science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness centers around a Terran named Genly Ai who is tasked with negotiating the planet Gethen into joining a vast interstellar confederation. Culture clashes ensue as Genly Ai discovers a people who are ambisexual and whose differing cultures all clash with the confederacy’s.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
If you’ve watched The Expanse TV series, this is the first book upon which it is based. Corey’s first novel in the series sets the stage: humans have colonized the solar system, but warring countries have given way to warring planets and colonies. This novel explores two mysteries: a private detective looking for a lost girl and a mysterious attack on an ice mining ship. The two mysteries move on a collision course, and the intrigue only grows.
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
It can be difficult to find books like Dune that actually predate Herbert’s novel, but, The Long Tomorrow was written in 1955, telling the story of two boys in a post-apocalyptic world in which science and civilization are feared and tamped down. But they long for something greater, something more than the agrarian life being thrust upon them. Together, they adventure across war-torn lands, discovering a great deal about themselves and the basis for the beliefs upon which their world is based.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
Roger Zelazny’s novel blends science fiction with mythology, though in a different way than Dune. While Herbert’s novel creates its own mythology, telling the story of Paul Atreides’s apotheosis, Lord of Light blends Hindu and Buddhist beliefs into a romping interstellar adventure. The Hindu pantheon rule the post-Earth colonies, but Mahasamatman, once known as Siddhartha, is rising up to oppose them.
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
One of my own all-time favorite series and my favorite of these books like Dune, The Shadow of the Torturer is the first in a series focusing on Severian, a member of the guild of torturers, exiled for showing mercy toward one of the condemned. But his exile launches him on a trajectory of political intrigue and heartbreaking adventure, much like the arc of young Paul Atreides in Dune.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Magic is maintained by The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but the recent appointee to the role of Sorcerer Royal has spelled (pun intended) catastrophe, bleeding England’s stores of magic almost dry. But maybe it’s not his fault after all, and he’s the protagonist of the series. So he sets off on an adventure, coming upon a woman (of all things) wielding great magical power, and leading them both down a path that will upend everything he knows about magic.
The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Set in a collapsing mass of world-ships at edge of the universe called Legion, The Stars Are Legion tells the story of Zen, an amnesiac girl trying to gain control of one of the world-ships and leave Legion. She’s not the only one with this goal, but like Paul Atreides, she seems to hold the key that no one else does. She bands together a motley group of cast-offs, waging into a war that only she can hope to win.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
The protagonist of A Stranger in Olondria, Jevick, thinks he has the perfect life, but then his father dies and the ghost of an illiterate girl starts haunting him. Seeking the assistance of priest to free him from the haunting, Jevick finds himself caught up in a clash between two cults and the brink of war. Soon, he is not only trying to free the girl from her ghostly existence, but becomes the lynchpin in an escalating conflict.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Red and Blue, the two protagonists of This Is How You Lose the Time War, are time agents from mutually exclusive futures. But in the novel by El-Mohtar and Gladstone, they begin a correspondence that blooms into an impossible romance. Red and Blue are caught in a war between technology and organics, and they’re determined to find an improbable future in which they can both win and be together.
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