Published Dec 8, 2020
25 Winter Reads Based On Your Favorite Star Trek Character
Finished up this week's new episode of Discovery? Curl up with a good book next, and the adventures continue...
By Margaret Kingsbury
With the holidays and winter approaching, many of us will be thinking about books, whether it’s buying books for friends and family or snuggling under a warm blanket and reading the winter away. These 25 science fiction books published this year show the little guys battling against empires and corporate giants, reluctant royals having rollicking adventures across space, alien encounters that do not go as planned, and so much more. Everyone can find a book they’ll love on this list, and I’ve paired each book with a Star Trek character I think it’s most similar to, so it’s easier to find that perfect book! For more recommendations, check out my earlier 2020 science fiction list, as well as my summer reading list of classics.
Spin won the Hugo award in 2006 and is now being reissued by Tor with an introduction by John Scalzi. One night, while ten-year-old Tyler is looking up at the sky, the stars disappear. Though he doesn’t know it, aliens have encased the Earth in a temporal shield, and now time is zipping by outside the shield, and the Earth is plunging closer to when the sun supernovas. This novel’s nostalgic feeling is one I think Archer fans will enjoy.
Skyhunter takes place in a dystopian future where an evil empire — The Federation, ironically — is attempting to take over the world. Talin is a refugee from one of the countries The Federation has conquered, and she joins the Maran Strikers — an elite fighting force — though that doesn't make her immune to Maran ridicule. The Federation employs monstrous beasts called ghosts to subjugate people, and the Maran Strikers use sign language to avoid detection from these beasts. This is perfect for Talin, who can’t speak after an attack from The Federation when she was a child. Sato would be fascinated by the various types of communication used in this novel.
The War Girls young adult series features sisters surviving in a future war-torn Nigeria beset by climate change and nuclear disaster. The first book, War Girls, takes place on Earth, while Rebel Sisters (book 2) has one character escaping to the space colonies, as another is left behind in Nigeria. The women in these books give lots of Michael Burnham vibes with their quick retorts and ability to survive anything. Burnham would also appreciate the intricate science in the series.
Unconquerable Sun is a gender-bent reimaging of Alexander the Great set in space. If any character in the Star Trek universe is Alexander the Great, it’s the mirror universe version of Philippa Georgiou. In Elliott’s pages, Princess Sun has come of age, but the relationship between her and her mother, the legendary queen-marshal Eirene, is strained. Her mother has managed to expel invaders and build Chaonia into a powerful Republic. But Princess Sun has goals for Chaonia too. This is science fiction on an epic scale, with lots of political intrigue, action scenes, and high drama.
This joyous, queer space opera series retells Arthurian legend in the future. In book one, Once & Future, in an attempt to find her adoptive parents, Ari Helix crash lands on the forbidden planet of Earth and pulls out a sword she finds there, becoming the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur. With her knights, Guinevere, and Merlin, Ari takes on an evil space empire. In book 2, Sword in the Stars, the gang are thrown backward in time to the Middle Ages, where they must steal the holy grail. These books are a blast to read and present an inclusive future where being queer is normal. It’s easy to imagine Adira as a knight of the round table in these novels.
Max Carmichael has a new assignment — second in command on Zuma’s Ghost, part of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard, or NeoG. Her reassignment comes at a shaky time. Zuma’s Ghost is preparing for the yearly Boarding Games competition, and the crew is determined to win. On top of that, after what seemed like a routine mission, someone is targeting the crew, and unless they can unravel the mystery, they and thousands of others might die. With LGBTQIA+ characters and lots of snarky banter, the crew reminds me so much of Discovery’s engineering department.
In a future ravaged by climate change, mother and daughter Agnes and Bea volunteer to be part of a study where they’ll move from the smog-filled city and create a home in the Wilderness State, protected land where only animals reside and nature rules. They’re part of a group of 18 to try and make a home there. As the group becomes closer to nature, the government decides to make use of the land in a different way, and the group will have to determine if they’re willing to fight for the Wilderness State. Saru fans (and perhaps even Cleveland Booker fans as well!) will enjoy the focus on nature and interpersonal relationships in this dystopian debut.
Parr is the heir to the Bilena Epso Ach throne, a position he never asked for or wanted, which is why he faked his death years earlier so he could be free to have fun and do whatever he wants in space. However, when his parents die under mysterious circumstances, he realizes he needs to un-fake his death and claim the throne. If only some space pirates and bounty hunters weren’t getting in his way. This space romp reminiscent of Douglas Adams will appeal to readers who enjoy the feel of classic science fiction while also having a good laugh, which exemplifies Captain Kirk.
This collection of hard science fiction short stories by award-winning Chinese author Liu Cixin is perfect for Spock fans. These 11 stories explore the boundaries of hard science and the personal. The opening story, “The Village Teacher,” shows a teacher struggling to pass down knowledge to his students in a village that dismisses him and education in general. In “Contraction,” a scientist and politician prepare for the contraction of the universe after its long expansion. The audiobook has a full cast of narrators that help make these stories come alive.
This anthology of 16 young adult short stories features Black girls in science fiction and fantasy. The opening story, “When Life Hands You a Lemon Fruitbomb” by Amerie (yes, that Amerie), is a time-traveling story about a girl trying to save humanity after aliens have attacked them. The anthology closes with “Sequence” by J. Marcelle Corrie, where there’s a service called Sequence that can map out the possible repercussions of an action, and a group of teenagers is addicted to using it. Other authors included in the anthology are Justina Ireland, Charlotte Nicole Davis, and Elizabeth Acevedo. Like Uhura did in 1966, these stories show that Black girls belong in science fiction and fantasy.
The two-book series A Borrowed Man make up Gene Wolfe’s final books. Both books are from the perspective of E.A. Smithe, a borrowed person whose personality has been uploaded from a deceased mystery writer. He lives in a library and isn’t considered a legal human being. In the first book, A Borrowed Man, Smithe may be the key to solving a murder of one of the wealthiest library patrons. The second book, Interlibrary Loan, Smithe is loaned out to another library along with a cookbook and romance writer. At the new library, he meets a little girl who is trying to save her mother. This series examines whether human-created intelligence should be considered human. The books are also wrapped up in a mystery Data would very much enjoy.
In a post-apocalyptic United States, a team of mercenary librarians hope to use their knowledge to save America. Nina is one such librarian, and she’s ready to kickass to defend her team. These aren’t your stereotyped quiet librarian types; these librarians don’t hesitate to kill when necessary. This first book in the Mercenary Librarian series is an action-packed dystopia with a bit of romance. It’s easy to imagine Tasha Yar in this setting.
In an alternate version of 2007, a leak has revealed that the U.S. government is in contact with aliens. Cora, the estranged daughter of the mastermind behind the leak, is temporarily possessed by one of the aliens, while government officers hold her mother and siblings. Rumor has it that the government is brainwashing people who have seen the aliens. To rescue her family, Cora decides to work with the alien, despite her fears. This novel grapples with themes of effective communication—both between Cora and her family and between the aliens and the human race—as well as how to handle emotions and judgments when faced with a new culture. These are all themes Deanna Troi experiences daily in her work on the Enterprise.
The Providence is an AI-run ship protecting humanity from an alien species nicknamed the Salamanders. It’s staffed by four astronauts, who track the ship’s success for the people back home. As the ship wages war on the alien enemy, killing all aliens it encounters, the crew begins to question its methodology. Worf fans will enjoy this thought-provoking military science fiction about the costs of warfare.
Machine is set in the same universe as Ancestral Night, but because it has an entirely new cast of characters and unrelated plot, it can be read as a stand-alone. When Dr. Jens, a trauma doctor and rescue specialist, and her team intercept a distress signal, they discover two space ships interlocked. One is centuries old, and the other is contemporary. The crew is asleep, and Dr. Jens’s team brings them back to their ambulatory ship, where Dr. Jens discovers a mystery that puts herself and the entire ship at risk. This fascinating read is perfect for Dr. Crusher fans.
In a dystopian future, a tight-knit family tries to maintain their agency under constant surveillance by Aunt Nettie— the AI installed in all “surplus” homes. The mother is a lawyer fighting for the surplus’s rights, while the father tinkers with tech. Because of their daughter’s amazing throwing skills, they form an illegal baseball team among the surplus. But unfortunately, Aunt Nettie is always watching. I’m sure Sisko would enjoy this hard-hitting book, as a baseball enthusiast who places a lot of importance on family.
Cas Russell is a genetically engineered math genius whose memory has been wiped, leaving her a bit lost on social etiquette, not that she cares. Her math skills allow her to trace the trajectory of bullets, among other things, and she uses these skills as a PI. She thinks she’s the only one with a superpower until she meets someone who can reach into people’s minds and alter their perspectives. The discovery of more genetically modified humans leads her on a dangerous chase that puts everyone she knows at risk. These science fiction thrillers are an action-packed blast to read, and Bashir fans will enjoy their explorations of the effects of genetic modification. There are three books in the series — Zero Sum Game, Null Set, and Critical Point.
After Eris fakes her death to escape her role as the heir of the ruthless galactic Tholosian empire, she’s recruited into the Novantaen Resistance, which opposes the empire. Her first mission is to infiltrate a Tholosian spaceship and collect information, but her partner, pilot Cloelia, resents Eris’s connection to the empire. Kira would love this high-stakes, feminist space opera about resisting evil empires.
Elyth is an agent for the First House of the Ascendance, a female order that keeps peace and harmony throughout the galaxy. When a planet threatens the rest of the galaxy’s safety, the ascendancy uses Deep Langauge, the greatest of all its technologies, to assassinate the planet. When Elyth is given a mission to eliminate the planet Qel, things almost immediately go wrong, and she begins to realize that the truths she’s been trained to believe may be false. This thought-provoking, philosophical novel would make an excellent Dax-like read.
When spy satellites begin going quiet in the demilitarized zone—the border between human and alien space—the Combined Corporate Defense Fleet sends Captain Susan Kamala to investigate. The humans and alien Xre have had an alliance for 70 years, and now it’s up to Kamala to negotiate with the Xre while unraveling the mystery of what’s happening to their satellites. Much like Janeway, Kamala must navigate a complex alien culture while keeping her crew in mind, though the corporate defense fleet is much less ethical than Starfleet.
In book one, Chilling Effect, a mafia-type group called The Fridge kidnaps Captain Eva Innocente’s sister Mari, and for The Fridge to free her, Eva must complete a series of tasks for them. She can’t tell her amazing crew, which includes an alien engineer who gives off scents based on his feelings (and who Eva has a crush on) and a bunch of psychic cats. Book two, Prime Deceptions, continues the crew’s hijinks as they search for a missing scientist, and yes, the cats are in the second book as well. Captain Eva Innocente’s personality is so very similar to B’Elanna Torres’s.
Kira Navárez has everything going for her. She’s recently engaged, has a thriving career, and she’s blissfully happy. When she sees a strange geologic formation during a routine survey on an uncolonized planet, she decides to investigate and discovers an alien relic. At first, she’s excited, but then the dust surrounding the relic begins to move and engulfs her. When she awakens, she’s aboard her ship, but time has passed, and now war has broken out, with Kira in the middle. Much like Seven of Nine and her family, a routine science mission turns into something much different after alien contact.
In book one, Fortuna, rebellious and sometimes drunk Scorpia Kaiser pilots the cargo ship Fortuna and is heir to her mother’s smuggling business. Years earlier, her brother Corvus abandoned the family to join an unwinnable war. Now, he’s returned, and Scorpia’s mother has ordered her to rendezvous with him. But what should be a calm family reunion turns into a dangerous mission when the siblings realize their mother and the family business is being used as a pawn. Book two, Memoria, is out December 8th and continues Scorpia and Corvus’s story. Fans of Tom Paris will notice a lot of similarities between him and Scorpia.
73-year-old writer Sylvia Harrison is working on her latest fantasy novel set in a fictional version of Florence, with inspiration from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Tempest. As she writes, a character that’s rooted in every story she’s ever told comes alive in a new way and tries to convince her to achieve immortality within the pages of the book she’s writing. The older Picard would enjoy the Shakespearean references and also appreciate the meditation on aging and mortality.
Memento is a novella prequel to The Illuminae Files. Emily Kline has been ordered to work with AIDAN, an advanced AI system that essentially runs the ship. During their work together, she and AIDAN discuss whether it’s ethical to let someone die to save more people or to do nothing at all and let people die. When an accident happens during a mission killing many crew members, Emily is convinced that AIDAN has gone rogue and is practicing the ethical dilemma she’d described. There are clear parallels to Soji’s storyline in Picard and that of AIDAN in Memento. I recommend listening to the audiobook, which has a full cast and feels like an audio drama.
Margaret Kingsbury (she/her) is a contributing writer at Book Riot, where she raves about the SFF books she loves. She writes about children's books at Baby Librarians, a website she co-founded, and you can find her on Twitter @areaderlymom and on Instagram @babylibrarians
Star Trek: Picard streams on CBS All Access in the United States, in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave, and on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.