Gentle sci-fi set on space- stations or ships?
December 16, 2023 2:15 AM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of gentle sci-fi set mainly or exclusively on space stations/spaceships, but where the focus is about human relationships rather than grand sci-fi plots.

Sort of in the vein of Becky Chambers' books (all covered) or Samantha Harvey's Orbital.
posted by knapah to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
If you're willing to check out games, Citizen Sleeper my be interesting. More of a visual novel/RPG type game, so no high intensity gameplay if that's not your thing.
posted by Teadog at 3:06 AM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Mary Robinette Kowal's most recent book The Spare Man is mostly a romance and murder mystery on a cruise ship, it's just that the cruise ship happens to be a spaceship.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:53 AM on December 16, 2023 [6 favorites]

I don't know those authors, but it sounds like you're looking for perhaps soft science fiction or space opera?

If so, I have some recs:

SL Viehl's StarDoc series is awesome... but I will warn you, there is one heck of a mid-series cliffhanger. I actually wrote this to her long ago:
"You have the dubious honor of being the author of the only book I've ever literally thrown at a wall when I finished it - I'm still not sure which was stronger, my disbelief that you actually did that to Cherijo, or that I had to wait *months* for the next book!"
You'd be in much better space, because the series is long finished. :)
(oh, and there's a bonus novella from a male lead character's POV, but I'll have to track it down tomorrow, I'm too sleepy to figure it out tonight.)

Also, Holly Lisle has several. So does Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
posted by stormyteal at 4:48 AM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty
Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir
Artemis, Andy Weir
Planetfall, Emma Newman
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Saturn Run, John Sandford and Ctein
Silo Series (Wool, Shift, and Silo) by Hugh Howey (not space)
The Sparrow, Mary Russel Doria (pretty grand, but definitely a literary novel focused on character)
posted by pjenks at 6:13 AM on December 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Pace teadog, while Citizen Sleeper is great and definitely focuses on relationships I'm not sure if I'd call it gentle. The gameplay is very much like that of a boardgame or visual novel but I at least found the narrative pretty stressful.
posted by rhooke at 7:24 AM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

The Void Captain's Tale by Norman Spinrad, nominated for the Nebula in 1983, takes place entirely on one ship. Would you consider a story gentle if it involved a search for enlightenment via extravagant meals and intense sex?
posted by drdanger at 8:07 AM on December 16, 2023

I just read The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker. Takes place during the pre-launch prep of a generation starship. It's basically a locked room murder mystery, so it's all investigation, character building, relationship exploration. Quite enjoyed it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2023

Falling Free by Lois Mcmaster Bujold is a standalone Vorkosigan novel set in a space habitat - about relationships and self-determination and corporate management, worth reading, published in 1988 and hasn't 100% aged well.

Across a Field of Starlight by Blu Delliquanti is a YA space graphic novel about chosen family in a rebellion. On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden is a YA space graphic novel about a salvage crew and chosen family.
posted by lizard music at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Agreed with all the above except for Russell's The Sparrow.
That is not a gentle read!
It's gut-churning. Its a great read, along with the sequel, Children of God but definitely not gentle.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2023 [10 favorites]

This is perhaps the only time that has ever arisen where it's perfectly appropriate to recommend Space Station 76.
posted by eschatfische at 9:05 AM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

There are pretty significant chunks of Seveneves that are not at all gentle. Like, there is cannibalism. I would not at all consider that a gentle or relationship-focused read in the vein of Becky Chambers. Also, just, like, so many pages about orbital dynamics. so many. It's a good read, but I don't necessarily think it fits with the Becky Chambers vibe.

The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz is about a fancy restaurant on a space station.
posted by yasaman at 9:15 AM on December 16, 2023 [4 favorites]

The Liaden universe novels have a few series focused on the trading spaceships. There is some outside nefariousness but the primary focus is on the internal shipboard dynamics (friendship, found family and romance), e.g. Conflict of Honors. Also tele-empath fuzzy creatures!
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Provenance by Ann Leckie is set in the same universe as the Ancillary books (Ancillary Justice etc.) but is more relationship-focused, with slightly lower stakes.

You might really like the Hainish novels of Ursula LeGuin. They are usually planet-based, with an outsider arriving and change ensuing, and they sometimes read like myth (Rocannon’s World starts like high fantasy and changes partway through to pretty hard sci fi) but they never lose the focus on relationships. She takes interstellar contact stories to be all about the individuals making the contact, which makes them very intimate.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Several of Robert Foward's books are set on ships, often orbiting something unusual.
posted by Sophont at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2023

C J Cherryh's Merchanter's Luck takes place entirely on space ships and a space station. It's set just after a war, and the protagonists are trying to pick up the pieces, but it's fairly upbeat overall.
posted by monotreme at 2:46 PM on December 16, 2023

Silent Running.

A movie about an orbiting habitat with plants and animals and a human caretaker who cares. Also, three cute robots named Huey, Devey, and Louie.
posted by mule98J at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2023

Starglass (layered, with ungentle bits)
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:16 PM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

It's been decades since I read it, and I don't know what its availability is, but some of the stories in the manga 2001 Nights by Yukinobu Hoshino might fit your criteria.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 6:03 PM on December 16, 2023

Seconding Provenance by Anne Leckie. And her new one, Translation State, starts as a whodunit and gradually turns into an alien romcom.

Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes was an interesting read, but quite gory IMO. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it was less bloody and horrific.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:52 PM on December 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has recommended Aliette de Bodard's Xuya Universe novels. On a Red Station, Drifting would be a good place to start that I think ticks all your boxes. They are maybe not always gentle, but neither are Becky Chambers'.

Seconding Translation State, which isn't all on a station, but a significant portion takes place there.
posted by Illusory contour at 11:30 PM on December 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

M.C.A. Hogarth's Dreamhealers series is a lovely, gentle (for the most part--one of the main characters works in an ER in book 2, so there are some intense medical situations there) account of two xenopsychology students who become friends and platonic life partners. The first book is planetside, but some of the others take place on starbases. You might also like some of the other books in this universe (the Pelted Universe), but I think none of them are as soft as these. (Definitely stay away from the Princes' Game series!)
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 10:15 AM on December 17, 2023 [1 favorite]

Reaching back in time a little bit, James White's Sector General series of "alien hospital on a space station with politics" might scratch an itch. White was fairly progressive for his era. They may be hard to come by in the shops but libraries may have copies, or there's the usual suspects.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:12 AM on December 17, 2023 [2 favorites]

You want Happy Snak by Nicole Kimberling:

A single woman trying to run a restaurant on a space station, but becomes entwined in interspecies politics when the consort of an influential alien leader dies in her shop, and the leader forces her to turn her restaurant into a shrine to their memory. So now she has to become the caretaker of the shrine, an unofficial human diplomat to a powerful species, and oh yeah she still wants to run the restaurant.

There's some sex that's mostly implied (the alien stuff is more explicit than the human stuff) and some violence in the last part but honestly most of it's just pretty funny, with a soupçon of social commentary.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:52 PM on December 17, 2023

Response by poster: Thanks all, some great suggestions here. I've passed a lot of them on to the friend who asked for ideas.
posted by knapah at 5:31 AM on December 21, 2023

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