A few months ago, someone in my Facebook SF group asked about books that are “like Firefly.” I took that as a challenge, to assemble a list of recommendations of books I’ve read that had a certain something that resembled Joss Whedon’s TV space western. Sort of “solve Y in terms of X,” with Y being a book in X being Firefly.
So here it is with reasons why I think each book is sort of like Firefly. In no particular order. My criteria can be summed up as: science fiction set in the future, preferably about a spaceship, generally with a protagonist who’s dealing with their past and facing some kind of government conspiracy. All but God’s War are space-based; Citizen of the Galaxy works in a number of ways that might not seem apparent at first. Lightless is told more from the government’s perspective, sure, but I think that adds some balance to the list. Sort of like The Operative entirely narrating Serenity. (I’m a bit fascinated by operatives who have to hold empires together, often approaching sideways.) Finally, God’s War is hard to pin down, but it fits the criteria of a tight-knit crew with a jaded leader just trying to finish the job they’ve signed on for.
I’ve tried to do a quick review of each book, stressing how they meet the criteria described above. I don’t think I’ve misrepresented any of them, but hey that’s what the comments are for, right?
- Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks: A classic SF book about a spaceship, a crew, and a job to do. The main protagonist is a shapechanger working for an alien race that is at war with the Culture, the main civilization in the series. There’s an operative searching for a lost super-brilliant child (who happens to be a super-AI), too, and interesting locations. Standalone in a wider, more expansive series.
- God’s War by Kameron Hurley (my review). If you read the blog regularly, you know I’m a Hurley fan. So how is God’s War like Firefly? It takes place in the far future on the planet Umayma (which is Arabic for ‘little mother’) where terraforming did not go as planned. The plot focuses on a world-weary team leader, Nyx, who has a bitter grudge towards the authorities. She assembles a motley crew that includes a shapeshifter, a gun nut, and an underskilled magician. Like Mal Reynolds, she’s lost her faith in God and sees things through while knowing something bigger than her is going on that in the end she fails to grasp completely. Book one of a trilogy.
- Grimspace by Ann Aguirre (my review). Sirantha Jax is the lone survivor of a major spaceship crash disaster. She wakes up in a facility run by the Corp (who run all space-based transport in this universe). She’s a jumper, one of those individuals with the proper gene that allows her to enter “Grimspace” to jump ships between star systems. There’s a conspiracy afoot, a crew of misfits, run-ins with space pirates, a bounty hunter on her trail. Highly recommended. Book one of six in a series.
- Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein. My favorite of Heinlein’s early novels. Deals with big issues like corporate power (and how insidious and diffused it can be), slavery, belonging. The young protagonist starts off as a slave and passes through a number of different space-faring societies before eventually arriving on Earth, including a ship-borne matriarchy. The novel asks where and under what conditions can one be truly free. Standalone.
- Lightless by C. A. Higgins. I admit I’m only about halfway through this one, but I’d like to mention it and why I think it’s worth a look. A three-person crew is piloting an experimental spacecraft towards the outer solar system. Two intruders appear, and one is caught. As his accomplice flees, he does something to mess with the ship’s computer. A virus of some kind. The book is told from the POV of the ship’s engineer Althea (who helped design the ship) and Ida Stays, an intel operative for the System. I can already highly recommend this one if you like hard SF, humanity colonizing the solar system (no FTL travel, but colonies beyond Earth), a far-reaching and oppressive government that has cameras everywhere. Okay, I’ll wait to do a proper review once I’m done, but go check it out, Browncoats. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Note: There’s some other books I’d consider, too. James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series, of which I’ve started reading the first book, very much fits the bill, but I haven’t finished it yet so I didn’t include it. It is a *personal* list after all.
Firefly has a definite steampunk flavor to it. I’ve been reading more in that genre of late and I can recommend Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series (that starts with Boneshaker); Beth Cato’s Clockwork Dagger duology; and Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. But for the list I wanted to stick to five that I had read personally that fit more into the space opera genre.
Maybe I’ll release an expanded list later, maybe with *your* help. So comment if you have something you’d like to add.