One of the sad facts of life for fans of roleplaying games is that the number of campaigns one can fit into one’s life is smaller than the number of campaigns one might want to fit into one’s life. One can cope by seeking out novels that scratch much the same itch as one’s preferred RPG. Take for example, the venerable roleplaying game Traveller (discussed in this older Tor.com essay and also in this recent piece). Even if one cannot find a game, it’s not hard to find SF books that are Traveller-esque.
The essential elements of a Traveller-like novel are: a vast setting, some reason to travel incessantly, and a diverse cast. What recent books qualify?
Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series
Both The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit are quite Traveller-esque, the first with its small commercial vessel crewed by a diverse assortment of characters struggling to stay afloat in a demanding universe, and the second features the sort of horrifying backstory implied by Traveller’s notorious character generation system.
Chilling Effect by Valeria Valdes
A recent entry onto the interstellar stage, humans endeared themselves to the galaxy-spanning Benevolent Organization of Federated Astrostates with their willingness to have sex with just about anything and their expendability. Born into a criminal family, Eva Innocente has with tremendous effort reinvented herself as Captain of the starship La Sirena Negra. She and her crew eke out a meagre living as legitimate merchants. Her life as a criminal is finally behind her. That is, until the day she discovers it isn’t.
Finders by Melissa Scott
Cassilde Sam and her partner Dai Winter’s vocation—tracking down and salvaging Ancestor relics—isn’t lucrative. It is, however, the best option they have in a universe that has barely avoided yet another civilizational collapse. Providentially, Cassilde will not have to endure her demanding life much longer, since she is terminally ill. The reappearance of Cassilde and Dai’s former lover Summerlad Ashe may offer both riches and a cure, if Summerlad’s quest for ancient relics succeeds. And if Summerlad’s ex-partner, John Vertrage, doesn’t murder the reunited trio to take the treasure for his own.
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
Eager to prove their worth to a government that could easily terminate their subsidy, Halmey Dz and her partners (the starship Singer and Connla Kurucz) make a precarious living searching for lost starships. For the most part, “lost” means marooned. Sometimes it means ancient relics. As Ancestral Night opens, Singer stumbles over the site of a terrible crime. It’s bad enough that they’re now witnesses who clearly need silencing—but it gets worse. Halmey’s curiosity leaves her enhanced with ancient alien technology and the subject of a galaxy-wide pursuit.
The Trove by Tobias Buckell
Jane Hawkins doesn’t have much: her two mothers, Sadayya and Tia, the Nelson Inn, located in the unfashionable part of Sargasso Port. Terminal illness will soon take Tia from Jane and Sadayya, while economic reality may someday steal away the inn. Drug-addicted rigger Villem Osteonidus is a fine example of the unpleasant clientele for which the inn must settle.
Villem’s hosts expect him to die slowly of his addiction. They do not expect him to take advantage of Jane’s naivety and implant her with a treasure map others would kill to possess. Very luckily for Jane, she’s the only one with permissions that let her read the map. No choice for the treasure hunters but to leave her alone. Jane’s life is secure! At least until the scallywags find the treasure….
These are only some of the recent books that come to mind. I’m sure that there are other books (including many older books) that would qualify and that you are going to tell me about them in comments.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assAlsted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He was a finalist for the 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.