Dune was originally published in 1965 to wide critical acclaim, tying with This Immortal for the Hugo in 1966 and winning the inaugural Nebula Award. Prizes mean nothing without a readership though. Dune has long since become a staple of epic science fiction storytelling and has been adapted for TV and film several times (another film is in the works at the time of writing). Because of its widespread popularity, many readers are eagerly searching for more books like Dune.
Yet for all the acclaim, at its heart Dune is a story about one boy’s growth to adulthood and eventual rule over a vast interstellar empire centred on the desert planet of Arrakis. Paul Atreides’ attempts to balance the treacheries of galactic politics with the rumblings of a religious war make for an exciting read. There are many books like Dune to be found and below are some the best recommendations we can think of.
8 Books like Dune
The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
You cannot talk about books like Dune without talking about The Fifth Season, the first book in the Broken Earth series. Sharing the same epic scale of storytelling that Dune is renowned for, Jemisin’s deviously clever tale is a modern wonder.
With the author’s own admission of nearly giving up on it several times, The Fifth Season is even more impressive. Jemisin has the singular distinction of being the first author to win 3 Hugos in a row between 2015 and 2017 and whilst awards do not always guarantee a good read, I can happily say The Fifth Season is a very good read.
Set on a world which could well be earth in the future, it begins when a powerful orogene (a person able to control and manipulate the earth itself) tired of his race being oppressed, uses his immense power to fracture a huge fault line across the entire continent. Imagine Vesuvius and then multiply it by a thousand.
The story then flits between 3 different characters, Essun, Damaya and Syenite and as the tale unfolds, you gradually learn of the connection between all three right before Jemisin pulls another rug out from underneath you. This is more science-fantasy than science fiction but richly deserves to be included in this list as one of the best examples of modern storytelling. It also serves up a stark warning about the way we treat our own planet.
The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley
Books like Dune have variously copied and borrowed heavily from Frank Herbert’s opus with differing levels of success. The Stars are Legion neither copies nor borrows despite being similarly epic. What it does do is blow you away with its prose, characters and storytelling.
The people in Hurley’s novel exist in a space fleet like no other, living underground on organic planet-ships in a symbiotic relationship with each. Peace is a distant memory as factions from each world race to discover the secrets of the central planet-ship around which the others orbit.
The ‘Mokshi’ represents an almost god-like presence at the centre of these people’s lives and no one in the history of the fleet has ever been able to get close. Except for Zan who has just woken up to be told she is the saviour of all. The only person capable of boarding the Mokshi. There’s just one problem, she has no memory of who she or anyone else is.
Part revenge story, part love story, The Stars are Legion is a novel I read several years ago that still sticks in my head thanks largely to its believable characters and richly imagined universe. Hurley challenges our pre-conceptions of politics, gender identity (there are no men in this world) relationships and how to find your place in a society that seems more interested in using you in its singular obsession for power.
The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett
Ten years before Dune was published, The Long Tomorrow hit bookshelves across North America. Books like Dune are popular topics of conversation amongst readers, but you would be hard pushed to find one in the 50s that dealt with religion, politics and war in a similar manner.
We are introduced to Brackett’s world through the eyes of Len Colter and his cousin Esau, two North American teens who live in the New Mennonite community of Piper’s Run in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear war. Following the war, people in the former USA were forbidden to form communities of more than 1,000 people.
Technology has also been banned, being seen as the root cause of the war. Religious sects have popped up all over the place, adjusting far better to a world with technology than any form of government. Len and his cousin find banned technology fascinating and following the stoning of a trader preaching on forbidden technology, begin to wonder if there is another way to live.
Brackett (much to the chagrin of sexist male Star Wars fans) was responsible for the original script of The Empire Strikes Back and in The Long Tomorrow she crafts a desolate world bleached of hope that even today, is still believable as a possible future of the human race.
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
When on the hunt for books like Dune, it is impossible not to mention Hyperion. This 1989 classic has a similar sweeping epic style and like Dune, is the first in a longer series of books.
This saga has multiple timelines and interlocking themes crisscrossing throughout the novel. A narrative headache for some, a masterpiece in interwoven storytelling for others. Personally, I enjoyed it and would recommend it as a fascinating read for anyone interested in exploring a fully realised world complete with real-feel characters.
The setting is the 29th century, where the Hegemony of Man now fills thousands of planets connected by farcaster portals (blend Star Trek’s transporters with Stargate and you get the idea). Hyperion is a planet in the ‘Outback’ and home to the ‘Time Tombs’, structures that move backwards in time and are guarded by a legendary creature called the ‘Shrike’.
Part 1 follows Paul Dure, a Catholic priest who is exiled to Hyperion. Part 2 follows Colonel Kassad whilst Parts 3-6 introduce us to other characters. All connect together in a soaring detailed tale that skips through and bends time like no other book you’ve read. Hunt this one down for a good read.
Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse is something you may be familiar with on TV as it has become a hugely popular sci-fi show first on the Sci-Fi channel and now on Amazon Prime. However, it is based on The Expanse novel series whose first book Leviathan Wakes was published in 2011.
A similar title to Dune but set a little closer to the home we know, Leviathan Wakes brings us to a future where man has colonised much of the solar system but is still bogged down in planetary disputes and petty conflicts.
James Holden is trying to live his life working as the XO of the ice hauling ship ‘Canterbury’ doing runs from the rings of Saturn. His life is turned upside down when the ‘Cant’ responds to a distress signal. The story gradually brings what become the core characters of the series slowly together from various points of the solar system inducing us to constantly read on to find out what might happen next.
The alien ‘proto-molecule’ serves as a fascinating ‘McGuffin’ all the way through, becoming something that our heroes both fear and desire whilst not knowing if it has the potential to save humanity from itself or destroy it. Books like Dune often have high stakes and saga-like narratives. Leviathan Wakes is no exception and serves as a modern page-turner.
Riverworld, by Philip Jose Farmer
Stories about the dead coming back to life is not a new concept, but there are always new and interesting ways of imagining it. In the distant future, ‘the Riverworld’ is a Super-Earth like planet, terraformed to have one single river and valley that runs the entire circumference of the world fed by a polar water source.
One day 36,006,009,637 humans from the first homo sapien through to the latest evolved addition of the species are simultaneously resurrected along the banks of the river. No one knows why or how this has happened and historical figures including Mozart, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), King John of England and Hermann Goring begin interacting with the fictional characters of the story.
Imagine being given a book to read for an English literature exam, but actually enjoying the book you’re studying. Riverworld feels much like Dune tied with an exam text, both fun and fascinating to read.
The Blazing World, by Margaret Cavendish
Another example to show people who claim the science fiction genre was invented by men. Published all the way back in 1666, The Blazing World depicts a different world to ours accessed through the North Pole (Philip Pullman and so many other writers have used this same mechanic).
The young woman who enters this world finds herself confronted with talking animals living in an almost utopian society. She becomes the empress of this society and organises an invasion back into our world to take on the enemies of her own home.
Books like Dune are always a treat, but this novel really did sow the seeds for what was to become the genre of science fiction. Often labelled ‘proto-science fiction’, you can see why this was such a definitive trail-blazer.
Cavendish plays with themes and philosophies we still struggle with today; is democracy a more flawed system then absolute sovereignty? Can a peaceful society be attained through the elimination of societal divisions?
Of course so far, the answer will always be ‘no’ due to the individual nature and objectives of every person on this planet. But this tale still makes for a fascinating muse on life and its possibilities.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
If the 17th century is considered the ‘Stone Age’ of science fiction then you could argue that the 20th century was the renaissance. A similar title to Dune yet published 33 years before in 1932, Brave New World is an example of humanity’s consistent ‘mistrust’ of new technology being the solution to all of our problems.
The story is set in 2540 (though Huxley identifies it as 632 AF – ‘after Henry Ford’) and humanity is living an ‘idyllic’ existence thanks to genetic cloning ‘birthing centres’ and social conditioning. Natural birth has gone the way of the dinosaur and the modern society of ‘The World State’ has no lasting relationships between people because ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’.
Society is separated strictly into a familiar class structure with Alphas at the top and Epsilons at the bottom, though because each person is specifically bred to be in their class, Huxley challenges the reader to wrangle over the moral implications of this.
Bernard Marx is an ‘Alpha’ and along with his love interest, Lenina Crowne, they both travel to a ‘Savage’ reservation where the people living there engage in unfamiliar rituals outside of The World State order, leading Marx to begin questioning the world in which he lives.
Brave New World is eminently re-readable leaving you pondering more and more about the role technology plays in our daily lives. A very relevant tale for the modern digital age.
Already read this book? Check out our list of more books like Brave New World!
These are just some of the many books like Dune to be found out there in the world. There are many others not included on this list and as always, we would encourage you to read as many as you can. Dune and similar titles remain popular because of the questions they continue to ask about our own roles in society and the larger world. What do you think of our choices?
Are you looking for some great science fiction novels like Dune? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!