Large Scale Galactic Civs in SF
March 15, 2020 8:42 AM   Subscribe

What are the most detailed, extensively worked out galactic civilizations in written SF?

I was reading a link on the current FP about the speed of the Millenium Falcon and it has this map, which got me thinking, what other (shared or single author) written SF universes are as (or more) explored, detailed and consistent?
I'm thinking of number of planets, habitats, trade routes, etc., that have actual novels/stories set in them, not just mentioned in passing. Not looking for movie/TV based SF. Comics are welcome.
posted by signal to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Vernor Vinge's A Fire upon the Deep has a pretty detailed scheme with many civilisations interacting and a neat device for different technological levels to be realisable in different zones.
posted by crocomancer at 8:52 AM on March 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space.
posted by something something at 8:57 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am currently reading James S. A. Corey's The Expanse series and there are some early references to established trade routes, habitats and how humanity has evolved to survive in them over the generations. I don't want to get into too much of the plot details, but I will say that exploration becomes important in later books. I'm only five in, so I can't speak much beyond that point. There's also an Amazon Prime TV Show, but I'm skipping it because the books are so good.
posted by Draccy at 8:58 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

C.j Cherryh’s Alliance space. All of her 30 odd space books tie in somehow. There are 5+ multi-book arcs, each of which elaborate a different culture.
posted by unknown knowns at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Seconding Vinge and Reynolds. Both recommendations are a good starting place for multi-book sequences set in a consistent universe. (Reynold's other series also work. Vinge's other stuff is great, but not galactic.)

Jack Mcdevitt's Alex Benedict series is also pretty detailed.
posted by eotvos at 9:31 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I haven’t read it myself so I could be wrong but I always hear Iain Bank’s Culture Series described as this.
posted by ejs at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

There's also Asimov's Foundation and Empire series, on the off chance nobody has demanded that you read it yet. (It contains many interesting things, but requires a sympathetic reading today. And a loose definition of consistency.)
posted by eotvos at 9:43 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

definitely the Culture Series fits
also Ursula K Le Guin's Hainish Cycle
posted by kokaku at 9:46 AM on March 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

(And also, Orson Scott Card's Ender series. But, it's mostly terrible.)
posted by eotvos at 9:48 AM on March 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Sage will fit the bill and they're all really good. She's fantastic at creating consistency in her universe in part because the characters age with each book, although they aren't completely released in chronological order. It's a pretty remarkable feat considering that there's 24 novels and novellas in the series. These books are easy to read yet intelligent, clever, don't hold back on some fairly dark themes but at the same time have a sweetness and whimsy about them. Super enjoyable!

The Iain Bank's Culture series is also well worth the read. These are standalone novels that occur in the same universe. Banks is one of my favourite authors because his vision is so detailed, clever, the dialogue is sharp, the universe building has so much depth. I don't generally reread books but I have with many of these ones.

Then there's Scalzi's Old Man's War series. Not as detailed as Banks in the world-building but definitely interesting, intelligent, filled with emotional, ethical and moral themes. I haven't reread these ones but they're on my list.

Orson Scott Card's Ender series is controversial. Some love it, some hate it. I enjoyed the first two quite a bit, more meh on the rest of the ones I read. This series is massive, with 16 novels and 13 short stories.
posted by ashbury at 9:59 AM on March 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

Jack Vance's Gaean Reach books fit your request.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

David Brin's Uplift series has multiple galaxy spanning civilizations with Earth as a minor player.
posted by monotreme at 10:11 AM on March 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Frank Hebert's Dune.
posted by XMLicious at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Helliconia series. Rich cultural, biological, and physical details as they evolve over generations, revealed through personal character narratives.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2020

Response by poster: To clarify, I'm looking more for diversity in settings (i.a.: planets, space stations) and I've already read all the well known SF canon suggestions. Thanks for the answers so far.
posted by signal at 11:08 AM on March 15, 2020

Not recommending the 'Honorverse' (the Honor Harrington series), but the locations and configurations of star systems are thought out for some believable MilFi, and political intrigue. I thought it was ok when I was a kid.

Likewise the 'Lost Fleet' series, system configurations are a big deal for MilFi. The spinoffs are more political in nature and include more emphasis on a bunch of different locations. Again, used to love them.

Charles Stross' 'Saturns Children' is a little gross, but it's a regular "jet-set around the galaxy chasing new locations."

Ann Leckie's 'Imperial Radch' trilogy has a few different locations, but the inter-relatedness probably not so much.

Stephenson's 'Seveneves' is restricted to a single system, but lot of locations including a lunar station, and small capsule networks further away in addition to locations on Earth. Logistics to how those interact are given a little respect.

Hamilton's 'Night's Dawn' trilogy has a bunch of different locations including space stations, concrete jungles, slums, spaceships, Hell.
posted by porpoise at 5:04 PM on March 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you're open to computer games, there are a bunch out there.

Genres range from stuff like 'Privateer' to 'Mass Effect' to 'Transcendence' and more.
posted by porpoise at 5:08 PM on March 15, 2020

Good grief, the computer game thing led me to remember the X games, currently X4: Foundations. Damn, it looks gorgeous, and was released in 2018.

It's a single player interstellar economy stimulator that invites you in to explore and tell your own story.

"...allows you to do almost anything from spacewalking [in the first person] to commanding a carrier with a fleet of ships onboard..."
posted by porpoise at 5:17 PM on March 15, 2020

The occasional omniscient narrative sections in Helliconia tie together the events on Earth, Helliconia, and the Avernus space station, whose stories unfold simultaneously.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:28 PM on March 15, 2020

Cordwainer Smith, to start with (sort of literally). I like the contrasted species/planets/societies/philosophies in the Karen Traviss books that begin with City of Pearl.
posted by clew at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also came to recommend Iain M. Banks - huge diversity of settings and ideas, all loosely connected by a handful of massive Galaxy-spanning civilizations (and usually interacting with smaller, unconnected or less-connected civilizations).
posted by aspersioncast at 5:02 AM on March 16, 2020

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