Even though I know it's out of vogue and comments on a cultural moment that's past, a little bit of my heart still belongs to the "great empires" breed of science fiction novels. Like the Foundation books, like Dune (though I've not gotten to them quite yet, I'm sort of hoarding them I guess.) Actually as I think about this, there are a number of "great series" in science fiction that I haven't read year, probably for this reason.
While not a universal--I think Dune breaks this rule--most of these "great empire" series, aren't really about a character or group of characters in the way that I think is more common these days. There are characters, of course, and they're important, but they don't stick around for a long time in the way that character driven fiction tends to be. And there isn't really anything wrong with character driven fiction, it just leads to a different kind of perspective, and type of story, and to be fair, I think it's the prevailing trend.
It seems that this "galactic empire," style of story telling is really rooted in a sort of "cold war" framework and with the end of the cold war, the idea of "top down" superpowers isn't something that's omnipresent. I suppose that some of the late-cyberpunk writing that deals with corporations of increased size and unchallenged single powers, is the present day product of this tradition, but it takes a different tone, and a much more "bottom up" type approach.
I guess the question that's hanging in my mind is can we get away with writing this kind of "big picture" story in today's context? I think the cold war is an easier issue to resolve for contemporary writers than is the character-centrism, but I'm open to ideas.