Best Space Opera Books
Space Opera is the most epic of science-fiction genres, due to its inception that can be credited as far back as the 1920s with classics by authors like Robert W. Cole, and also due to the nerdy wars of epic proportions that break out over the definition of this subgenre. Only the most die-hard of sci-fi fans can’t see a little humor in grown men with large bellies hanging over their pants and Gandalf beards getting butt-hurt that their definition isn’t agreed with. In fact, most sci-fi fans, when arguing the accuracy of their version of space opera, seem to completely forget (or ignore) that the term was coined as an insult to describe the schmaltzy dialogue, corny one-liners and over the top settings that typified the genre.
Space Opera took a more serious turn with World War 2 and the space race between America and the Soviets. Some of the science fiction heavy hitters such as Alastair Reynolds, Frederick Pohl and Isaac Asimov began writing more politically complex novels that would be later defined as space opera.
Modern space opera now spans almost every genre of science fiction: hard, military, time travel, parallel worlds, space-westerns and apocalyptic futures. The more contemporary space opera novels seem to be set in the universe of “epic space opera", with a large cast of characters, a galactic empire at war, fleet on fleet warships, different races/planets, politics in turmoil, and at times a hidden alien menace. The space opera genre has also had a resurgence thanks to television shows like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.
You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.
We’re probably breaking about a million nerd rules by putting someone other than a traditional, old-fashioned space opera novelist at the top of this list, but this list is about the best, not about what Comic Book Guy would think, right? Then again, Dan Simmons is one of those writers that both readers of contemporary sci-fi and older fans seems to agree on – with almost every sci-fi fan agreeing that Hyperion is one of the most brilliant sci-fi novels covering space opera (and not just space opera, it touches on hard sci-fi, artificial intelligence and dystopias), and for that reason Hyperion from The Hyperion Cantos series of science fiction novels lands in first place on this list. Simmons is certainly one of the most versitile writers out there, jumping seemingly at will between science fiction, mystery, horror, and other genres. And everything he writes is awesome.
Hyperion follows a group of travelers sent by the Church of the Final Atonement, Shrike Church, on a pilgrimage on the eve of Armageddon while the entire galaxy is warring, to the Time Tombs on Hyperion. On Hyperion there is a creature called the Shrike that is feared and worshipped, but there are also those who are ready to destroy it. As they progress, the reader learns each traveler’s tale and is drawn in by the depth of character that they learn about. There are so many traditional science-fiction elements and contemporary ideas in this story by Simmons that it has something to appeal to everyone. There’s even a little bit of the Wizard of Oz in it, if that’s your thing! Almost every novel within The Hyperion Cantos series won a Locus Award, with Hyperion winning both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1990. A film adaptation is currently being developed by Warner Bros.
The Fall of Hyperion; Endymion and The Rise of Endymion (all part of The Hyperion Cantos series).
One of the most popular, but also one of the most controversial entries on this list is Dune. Sci-fi nerds have been warring for years about whether this novel is strictly classified as space opera or not. Though, with its feudal interstellar society, noble houses, allegiances, battles, and politics, we really can’t see how this is anything other than space opera! Similarly the 1984 Dune adaptation by David Lynch was in equal parts universally loved and universally panned. Dune has managed to keep fascinating readers and film-goers alike through the 21st century, being sampled in underground and popular dance music tracks by Adam Freeland and Andy C, no doubt to electronic dance music fans’ love of “the spice” (geddit?).
Dune ‘s set in the distant future, with noble houses in control of individual planets showing their allegiance to the imperial House Corrino. It follows the story of young heir, Paul Atreides, as his family gains control of the desert planet Arrakis, the source of the spice, mélange, one of the most valuable substances in the universe, and shows the political, religious, technological and human ramifications of different forces battling for control of Arrakis and the spice. The plot thickens as it becomes clear that the Emperor is threatened by the Atreides house and is plotting to destroy it. The Atreides thwart several traps and attacks against them, whilst building a relationship with the desert Fremen, but are unable to defend themselves against a Harkonnen trap supported by the Emperor and by a traitor within the House Atreides. In the political mess and battle that ensues, several key players lose their lives, and Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, flee into the deep desert, joining a ban of Fremen. At this point, where Paul and Jessica Atreides join the Fremen, is where the story really gets interesting…
Dune won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1966 and is often referred to as the best-selling sci-fi novel in the world. For being an epic adventure of space opera proportions and for being so resilient and popular, this novel gets second place on this list.
The five Dune sequels: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune
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Alastair Reynolds just may be King of the space opera nerds. Not only is this man a veteran science-fiction novelist, he also holds a PhD in astronomy and worked for years at the European Space Agency. It’s because of this, that we can forgive him for being a Welshman. We say that in all jest, of course, how could we not love a country that gave us Catherine Zeta-Jones?
For these things alone we’d love to attribute him the third position, but it’s the intricate plot and complicated details that give Revelation Space this position. Revelation Space was published in 2000 and is the first novel set in the Revelation Space universe. The novel begins with three narrative strands that seem to be unrelated but merge together as the novel progresses.
Opening in 2661 on the planet Resurgam, Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist and leader of the Resurgam colony excavates the remains of the Amarantin, a 900,000-year-old civilization, and their technological secrets. The narrative travels back to 2540, where the starship Nostalgia For Infinity, replete with frozen crew of Ultras (highly modified humans conditioned for long spaceflight), is journeying to Yellowstone to find Sylveste, not knowing he left 15 years ago for Resurgam. They are under attack by a virus, and believe only Sylveste’s technology can save them. Pan to 2524 in Chasm City, Yellowstone, and Ana Khouri, a professional assassin is hired by “The Mademoiselle” to infiltrate Nostalgia for Infinity as it nears Yellowstone. Khouri has orders to kill Sylveste. At this stage, the various narrative threads begin to merge beautifully, and the novel ends in an explosive, unexpected manner. Revelation Space was shortlisted for the 2000 British Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.
Gridlinked by Neil Asher
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No science-fiction novel list is complete without an entry from Isaac Asimov and this entry covers all criteria of space opera that die-hard enthusiasts would agree on. And we’re bucking our own rules here, breaking them because he’s the grand master of sci-fi, and letting Foundation, a collection of five short stories, into this list of novels. After all, when published together, they do form a single plot.
Foundation tells the story of a group of scientists who seek to preserve knowledge as the civilizations around them begin to regress. The first story is The Psychohistorians, set in Year 0 FE (Foundation Era). The Galactic Empire appears stable, but is in a decline comparable to the Western Roman Empire. Hari Selden has discovered Psychohistory, a blend of science and psychology, aligning all possible futures to mathematics. The aristocrat rulers in charge of the Empire are not impressed with this discovery, nor that it reveals the Empire to be crumbling. Selden is arrested. During his trial, Selden explains the Empire will collapse and enter a dark age, and he is exiled to Terminus.
The second story, The Encyclopedists, is set in 50 FE on Terminus. The city’s first Mayor, Salvor Hardin, is relatively powerless due to the political structure of Terminus, but believes Terminus is in political danger from its four neighboring prefects of the Empire. Hardin avoids attempts by the Kingdom to establish military bases on Terminus. In the end, Hardon gets the political upper-hand as Anacreon’s forces arrive to take the Foundation. The Mayors is set in 80 FE, three decades after The Encyclopedists. The Foundation controls the region through Scientism, an artificial religion, and shares its technology with the Four Kingdoms while calling it a religious truth. Salvor Hardin’s influence is met by a new political movement called the Actionist Party, who encourages direct action against the Four Kingdoms. An attempt to impeach Hardin fails.
The Traders, set circa 135 FE, highlights the expansion of the Foundation, which has sent out sanctioned traders to exchange technology with neighboring plants for political and economic power. It explores the political ramifications of this exploration.
The Merchant Princess is set two decades later. The Foundation is powerful, the Four Kingdoms kneel to it, and its commercial and technological empire is enormous, but three Foundation vessels have vanished near the planets of the Korrell amidst resistance. Those in power fear a “Seldon Crisis” is occurring. Korrell declares war on the Foundation, using its imperial flotilla to attack Foundation ships. In retaliation, the Foundation does not attack, but imposes an embargo on Korrell.
Foundation is the first novel in the Foundational Trilogy, which was later expanded into the Foundation Series.
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What do you get when mix together a card carrying-homophobe and science-fiction? Ender’s Game. Now it’s an ethical struggle these days to decide what to do with the great writer OSC and his fiction, but it happens that he wrote one of the best space opera sci-fi novels of all time. So much so, that even the American military seems to agree with this. Ender’s Game has been awarded fifth place on our list for one of the most popular and well-written novels space opera novels.
The book has been critically acclaimed and is suggested reading for the U.S. Marine Corps. It won the 1985 Nebula Award and the 1986 Hugo Award. Ender's Game ranked in second place on the Damien Broderick's book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 list.
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Technically, I think this epic space opera tale also fits within the zombie genre, but somehow this has never been mentioned by any reviewers. Have we finally had our fill of zombie jokes? Am I flogging an (un)dead horse? Okay, I admit defeat. Peter F. Hamilton’s novel is much fresher than my terrible zombie jokes: it’s a new take on the space opera genre with all of the old-fashioned criteria: new technology, epic plots across the stars, massive spaceships, and entertaining baddies and heroes you want to gun for.
But this novel really does tell the story of a “reality dysfunction” – a rip in the fabric of time that lets the dead possess living bodies. A Satanist, Quinn Dexter, takes control of his dead/sort of dead/kind of living/are they living or dead army and initiates the Night’s Dawn: the decimation of everything on Earth. All is not doom and gloom, however, with Joshua Calvert and Syrinx using their spaceships to search for an alien God who just may hold the answer, if they can manage to find this mythical God in the stars before The Night’s Dawn eats everything in existence.
Number Seven on our list is one of the best space opera novels written recently. Clive Barker and Hellraiser fans may quake at the Leviathan reference, but in this case it refers to the god himself, not to an underground labyrinth of sickness and despair.
Showing that new space opera is just as relevant as more traditional space opera, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing under the pen-name James S.A. Corey, offer a 2011 sci-fi novel centering around a conflict in the solar system that comprises Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt. The story follows Jim Holden, an ice miner who makes runs form the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. He and his crew stumble across the remains of a ship named the Scopuli, where he finds a secret that people are willing to kill and die for, and to start wars over. Simultaneously, Detective Miller is looking for the daughter of a wealthy couple. Her trail leads him to Holden and the remains of the Scopuli… and he realizes that this girl just may be the lynch pin holding everything together, or threatening to pull it apart. Holden and Miller have to work together to find out what is going on and to keep themselves alive, but this involves running the gauntlet of the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries and the secretive corporations.
Leviathan Wakes was nominated for the 2012 Hugo and Locus Awards, and George R.R. Martin described the novel as a “kickass space opera”.
This novel has everything I want in space opera in it: love, betrayal, aliens, space battles, super-intelligence, physics, and the Beastie Boys. Wait, I think I just included that part by accident. These things happen when you start getting Intergalactic Planetary stuck in your head every time you read about a gripping tale of galactic war.
Set thousands of years into the future, the universe is inhabited by various races, including super-intelligent entities in the Transcend and the simple creatures and technology of the Unthinking Depths. Space has been divided in these regions of thought by unknown forces. When the Straumli realm uses an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, a huge force of power is unleashed that kills thousands of worlds and enslaves all intelligence – natural and artificial alike. Recognizing what they have unleashed, researchers attempt to flee in two ships, one of which is destroyed. The second ship is unharmed, landing on a distant planet with a medieval type civilization of dog-like creature called the Tines.
A Fire Upon the Deep won the Hugo Award in 1993.
A Deepness in the Sky (Where Vinge expands on Pham’s backstory)
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DOLPHINS IN SPACE! I promise I am not making this up, as much as it sounds like a bad take-off from the Muppets, it really happens in this novel. And not just dolphins in space, but actual dolphin-fucking. Yep, you have to read it to believe it.
And usually I’d leave the awards a novel has won to the end of a review, but I feel after the dolphin fucking comment, that the industry seal of approval needs to be shown upfront, for fear of turning readers away. Startide Rising won the 1984 Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards. That’s some pretty serious sci-fi literature swag there.
Brin’s second novel in the Uplift Saga is set in a future universe where no species can become sentient without being “uplifted” by a patron race. Humanity wouldn’t be humanity without its existence being a mystery, so naturally, it’s still unsolved as to who uplifted mankind. In turn, mankind has uplifted chimps and dolphins to sentience. The Terran exploration vessel Streaker (crewed and captained by mostly dolphins) crashes on a previously uncharted water planet called Kithrup after discovering an ancient and powerful secret that everyone wants a piece of. The action in this novel is fast paced, the hostiles in space and their epic space battles make for a gripping story, and it sure is imaginative.
The Uplift Storm Trilogy, also by David Brin set in the same universe.
Lois McMaster Bujold really does make up for a huge mass of sins that the science-fiction writing industry commits in the form of sexism. Oh, wait… women are meant to like being portrayed as submissive, yet sexual, chain-mail bikini wearing individuals? Proving that not all sci-fi is about female subjugation (and really, the sci-fi writing industry is copping a beating lately for it), is the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.
If you like tough women, like Lisbeth in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then you’ll love McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia Naismith.
It’s unusual for us to recommend the second novel in a series, but Barrayar is the most popular novel in the Vorkosigan saga, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Other recomended books in the series: Shards of Honor and the Warrior’s Apprentice, also by Bujold.
I admit to making like a U.S. baseball player and cheating again on this one – The Gap Into Conflict is actually a novella, but it’s such a freaking amazingly structured story, and so popular with sci-fi aficionados that we had to include it on this list, and for that reason it comes in at number ten here. If you’re a fantasy buff as well as a science fiction buff, Stephen R. Donaldson will come as no stranger to you, being the author of one of the most acclaimed fantasy series, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
In the Gap Into Conflict, Donaldson takes the reader on an adventurous, almost Shakespearian tale of the internal struggle we face between good and evil as we follow the story of Angus Thermopyle, an ore pirate and murderer who arrives at Mallory’s Bar and Sleep with a stunning woman on his arm, who turns out to be Mom Hyland, a cop in a former life, before she met Thermopyle. When Nick Succorso, another pirate and owner of a nice frigate kitted out for deep-space, notices Thermopyle, this is when the story turns to one of revenge and rivalry, with devastating effects.
Aside from the interesting structure (the novel tells a short scene and goes into its ramifications from the point of view of the casual bystanders who bore witness to the scene), this book is fascinating with its dark characters who go from hero to villain and back again, and how it succeeds in making you care about a main character who seems, at first glance, to be utterly unlikeable.
The sequel books in the series are The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge; The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises; The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order; The Gap into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die.
Vergil Ulam has done something remarkable – he has created something wondrous: biological computers which he calls noocytes. The thing is he used his own lymphocytes to do it, and now he’s been told to shut it down, destroy his work. So he tries to smuggle all those millions of single cell computers out of the lab the only way he can – inside himself – in his bloodstream. Inside his blood the noocytes begin to evolve, and in evolving they change the world...
Greg Bear is the thinking person’s author. He’s not scared to go way out there and look back at us mere mortals left behind on this lump of wet rock. And his words take you deep into the heart and soul of the concepts he places in front of you (which, let me tell you, can be quite disturbing in a chilling sort of way). And there’s some real hard science behind the stories too (he’s not just weird – he’s got style!) – he is credited as the first sci-fi author to write about nanotechnology with this book. He explores the concepts of reality as a function of observers, biotechnology, consciousness and everyone’s favourite bogey-man: artificial intelligence. Somehow he manages to squeeze in a darned good story that ties it all together flawlessly. Also (honestly) it’s one of his easier books to read. One of the founding members of Cyberpunk or maybe a pre-curser author. The point is debatable.
In a move that most of us would think is unprecedented in the science fiction world of famous authors, Larry Niven has done something unheard of: admitted to an error in his plot. Niven wrote, "If you own a first paperback edition of Ringworld, it's the one with the mistakes in it. It's worth money."
Louis Gridley Wu celebrates his 200th birthday at the start of the novel. It’s 2850 AD, so this age isn’t particularly unusual. But as the vampires in Ann Rice’s world found, when one gets to this age, one gets rather fucking bored with life and its experiences. Louis decides to take a trip beyond Known Spaceship on his own. Nessus, a Pierson’s Puppeteer, offers him a spot on an exploration voyage with Speak (a Kzin) and a young human female, Teela Brown. They travel to Ringworld, an artificial ring about one million miles world and the diameter of Earth’s orbit.
They unsuccessfully try to contact the Ringworld but their ship is disabled by its defense system. With important systems on their ship destroyed, the crew has to find out how to get back into space as well as explore Ringworld. Forced to land due to sickness, they encounter Ringworld’s indigenous people who seem to be human and living in a primitive human manner. They mistakenly think the crew is the creators of the Ring, treating them as gods. Proving it’s never good to get in with fundamentalists, the Ringworlders go a bit feral. If you think things are already intense, plots, secrets and machinations are revealed and inter-species love happens. This is definitely one of the most intriguing space opera novels written and well worth your time.
And did we mention that Ringworld won the Nebula, Hugo and Locus Awards?
Similar recommendations: Timescape by Gregory Benford, The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
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The Culture series is an amazing set of novels and if it wasn’t already considered a classic in the sci-fi genre, Iain M. Banks’ recent departure from this world will definitely solidify that status. If you didn’t know Iain M. Banks before this list, you need to give yourself a slap with a glove, because the recently departed man was considered such an asset to science fiction, that he’s had an asteroid named after him.
Consider Phlebas tells the epic, intergalactic tale of the Idiran-Culture War and the different levels of conflict that the War creates. One of the characteristics of the Culture series that makes it so interesting compared to your run-of-the-mill space opera series, is that it’s told from the perspective of the antagonist of the tale. Battles, betrayal, action, and ship to ship combat abounds. Consider Phlebas is a great segway into the culture series -- regarded as some of the finest science fiction around.
Imagine Robert Heinlein without his gratuitous love of breakfast foods and busty, bisexual women and replace those interests with technical, craft brilliance and a love of robust dialogue, and you have Frederik Pohl.
The Heechee, an alien race who disappeared a long time ago, built a space station (Gateway) in a hollow asteroid. Humans have tried to replicate this technology with most efforts ending in disaster and they`ve also tried to learn how to operate the alien space ships that were found at Gateway, but the humans can`t quite figure out how to use the controls all too well – they don`t know where a setting will send the ship or how long the ship will be there for. Out of luck, a few voyages have resulted in finding Heechee artifacts and other habitable planets. This made the Gateway Corporation (the corporation who runs the space station on behalf of a cartel of countries) and the passengers of the relevant voyagers rather rich. Robinette Stetley Broadhead wins a lottery giving him enough money to buy a one way ticket to Gateway. He goes on several riches seeking missions – the first is useless, the second he makes a huge discovery but is penalized for incapacitating his ship, the third is where he and his ship mate Gelle-Klara get stuck in the gravitational pull of a black hole. And at this point, things get really interesting.
Gateway won the 1977 Nebula Award and the 1978 Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Awards.
Not to be confused with the Danish resistance fighter and publisher, Poul Anderson, this Poul Anderson wrote one of the most well respected hard sci-fi, space opera novels, nominated for a Hugo award in 1971.
The starship Leonora Christine is powered by a Bussard ramjet and on course for a distant star system. As there`s no FTL in Anderson`s Tau Zero, the crew are looking at spending five years on the ship, with 33 Earth years passing before they arrive at their destination. Before the Leonora Christine gets there, she collides with a nebula damaging one of the integral parts of the engine and the crew accelerates the ship to get to a region where the gases and radiation levels are acceptable enough to try and repair the decelerator. As the crew tries to repair the ship, the time dilation screws up and they become more and more removed from ever seeing humanity ever again. Changing course, they try to locate another suitable planet to land on anywhere, but find they have to fly freely in their search, doomed to travel endlessly. In Earth time millions of years would have passed since they left. This all sounds very morbid, but it`s not all gloom and doom, with a surprisingly upbeat ending in Tau Zero.
The reason why we love this book and for the gut-renching portrayal of the crewmembers' reactions to being the last of humanity and the prospect of being confined with their colleagues indefinitely make this a case study in good science fiction. Think of this novel as a mix between Hard Science Fiction and Space Opera.
While science has proven the science behind Tau Zero as not possible, the book can still be appreciated as a great science fiction book without the actual pure science part being correct.
Usually when you think of the 80s you think of bouffant hair, jeans tight enough to threaten a man’s ability to father, and high pitched singers wearing neon colors. Fortunately, the 80s gave us more than just bad taste, with Neverness written by David Zindell and published in 1988.
Neverness tells the story of a futuristic world where mathematicians have reached cult status, almost like a religion of their own, due to the calculations they do for space travel. In his magnificent prose with its rich complexity, Zindell follows a young graduate pilot, Mallory Ringee in this very believable future on the planet of Icefall, in the city of Neverness. Zindell’s world building is next to none, creating a world where society and culture as we know it has been completely replaced, and humanity lives in a world of akaschixz, cetics, tinkers, hairjan, warrior poets, scryers and wormrunners. A testament to his craft, the reader never feels jarred out of place in this foreign world, and instead is caught up into its whirlwind as if the reader were one of the characters. There is an intense focus on science, math, and technology in this novel with the creation of technology treated in almost reverent manner, rather than the fanboy/girl approach to technology such as Apple devices that we have in our era. This galaxy has insane computer gods, religious sects worshipping poetry, altered human DNA and exploding stars threatening to destroy humanity.
If you like deeply complex plots, heart wrenching action, and a meaningful quest, then Neverness is the novel for you. Neverness won the Gigamesh Award for best novel in 1991.
If you think space opera is just a subset or spin-off of military science fiction, and that every novel or series or saga is yet another John Carter, prepare for Scott Westerfield to blow your expectations away. And of course, in the positive way, not in the “not another crappy erotica post E.L James” fame sort of blowing your mind way.
The Risen Empire is set in a galaxy in the distant future (don’t worry, it’s also not another Star Wars rehash), where the galactic empire comprises 80 worlds with many human civilizations. The Risen Emperor rules over the galactic empire, but he’s not human, not entirely. He’s an immortal through the help of a “symbiant” (a symbiotic creature). In turn, he gifts his favorite citizens with immortality after their death, though, this immortality seems more like becoming a zombified supplicant of the emperor. The still naturally living citizens are represented by the Imperial Senate and elected governments on each world. The Empire doesn’t have FTL travel yet, so people who travel between the worlds lose the same time frames as their friends and family, an effect called “Time Thief”. Aside from all of this strangeness, the Empire is at war with crazy cyborgs, the Rix, who worship artificial intelligence and take a hostile, yet evangelical approach to their worship. If that hasn’t convinced you that this book has everything you need in space opera, you could go for the dolphin sex book instead.
The Night's Dawn series by Hamilton. A somewhat similar concept wrapped in some of the best space operatic action in the genre.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, the initials W.W. may not resonate with you as an impressive science fiction writer in the new wave of space opera – W.W. probably brings to mind a previously mild-mannered high school science teacher who became a multi-millionaire after producing high grade methamphetamine to pay for his cancer treatment. Nothing at all like that W.W., our novelist Walter Jon Williams is instead a master at crafting fascinating and complicated space opera battles.
Published in 2002, The Praxis is the first novel in the Dream Empire’s Fall series and introduces the reader to the Shaa, a powerful race who have led the Empire for eons, ruling humanity and other races. Their philosophy is the Praxis, based on obedience and hierarchy (not too dissimilar to how law firms, investment firms, and accountancy companies operate). But it’s the last days of the Shaa, with a civil war heralding the end of the Empire. The Naxids, an insectoid race battle with every race after the last of the Great Masters passes. It wouldn’t be real space opera without an intense look at human interpersonal relationships, and the plot follows Lieutenant Gareth Martinez, a naval officer and Cadet Sula, a female pilot and head of the Sula Clan, also known as Lady Sula. They launce a rescue of a yachtsman, Blitsharts (yes, that name makes us laugh too!) and over the recuse Martinez courts Sula with comedy and literature.
If you’re after some fresh space opera, you can’t go wrong with the Praxis.
Do you know what they used to call cyberpunk in the 70s? “Hippie space opera”, according to the New Worlds Magazine. At least that’s what they called Harrison’s third space opera book The Centauri Device. These days, we’d all think of Harrison’s novel with its port cities with Bladerunner-esque junk and hookers as cyberpunk space opera, not hippie space opera.
The Centauri Device follows John Truck, a scummy, drug-selling spaceship captain who is the last of the Centaurians, as he is hunted by General Alice Gaw (head of the Israeli World Government), Gadhafi ben Barka (head terrorist) and Dr Griskin (a leader of the Opener Cult) Truck’s mother was one of the last Centaurians before the genocide. Now there’s a group of people who want him to arm a powerful bomb that only responds to Centaurian DNA, the Centauri Device. It’s a dark and gritty world that Harrison envelopes the reader in – the Arab and Isreali conflict has split the planet and Truck as our hero is the epitome of the fallen hero stereotype. It’s not just space opera, this novel falls firmly within the hardboiled and cyber punk genres too, giving fans of all types of dark fiction something to sink their teeth into.
And if you’re still not convinced about this hard breed of space opera, Harrison was also the editor of the British science fiction magazine, New Wave.
Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard; The Complete Roderick by John Sladek
Do you know how hard it is to make a joke about one of the nicest men in science-fiction? Even the professional comedic writers can’t do it well. The best thing they could come up with a couple of years ago was an April Fool’s Day joke that Stross was co-writing the sequel to Atlas Shrugged with Cory Doctorow. It’s hard to tease him for something like his love of breakfast and aggressively sexual women (we won’t name names) when he’s just your normal, average nice guy that writes contemporary space opera that is admired by sci-fi fans of all ages.
The New Republic, a repressive state has launched an attack against an invasion of one of its colony, little does the New Republic realize, that they’ve actually been visited by technologically advanced aliens who can grant the colony any wish, including giving them the Festival’s technology. Like any third world civilization that goes from squalor to having their wishes granted (wait, no, we aren’t that pleasant to our third world countries on real-life Planet Earth), socio-economic and political issues crop up, causing conflict within the colony. And because it’s space opera, we have our Days of Our Lives installment of an engineer and intelligence operative trying to stop this happening and falling in love on the New Republic’s flagship.
What is there to love about the usual space opera elements of intergalactic battle and a love story between super intelligent people? The themes in this are ones that resonate today, particularly in the midst of the Prism scandal – information should be free and widely available, no matter what level of society you’re from.
Singularity Sky was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2004.
Series Info: A sequel, Iron Sunrise, was published that same year. Together the two are referred to as the Eschaton novels.
You know when you were a kid and you were forced to peel potatoes for the family fish and chip shop? Wait a minute… is that just an English thing? Okay, scrap that. The family business that Kylara Vatta tries to avoid in Trading in Danger isn’t that mundane, but apparently it’s still worthy of buggering off to join the military.
Sci-fi readers say that Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta series is like the work of Lois McMaster Bujold, and there are definitely similarities in this epic, military, space-opera series. Trading in Danger follows Kylara Vatta, one of the young heirs of the interstellar shipping corporation Vatta Enterprises (imagine Planet Express, except with far more competent employees than Fry and Leela). To avoid being roped into the family business, Vatta enrolled in the Slotter Key Spaceforce Academy but had to leave in her last year and captain a trading ship, the Glennys Jones for the family business on its last journey to the scrapyards, Lastway. She deviates from her mission when she hears that a shipment of agricultural machinery never arrived and that there would be a hefty bounty to anyone who could bring this in. An engine malfunction lands her and the ship in a planetary system just edging into serious conflict. It wouldn’t be a space-opera if epic conflict didn’t ensue, and this is just what the local crisis causes. By Ky’s military training pays off in the end.
Our favorite Mad-Scotsman, Ken McLeod, crosses the genres of sci-fi, cyber-punk, space opera and post-apocalyptic fiction in Newtown’s Wake, telling the story of the world after the Hard Rapture, a devastating war, caused by god-like artificial intelligence on Earth. Only the fittest and most intelligent survived, and unsurprisingly these categories weren’t ones that the humans featured highly in! Though, a few humans remained and thrived.
Lucinda Carlyle has taken control of a chain of interstellar gates called the Skein and finds a relic on a remote planet called Eurydice. The relic is as formidable to the existence of the Carlyles as the name Eurydice suggestions. Little known to Lucinda is the fact that before the Hard Rapture, a group of scientists scanned human personalities into digital storage in the hopes of reviving them one day. And as is a common theme with sci-fi, artificial intelligence novels, once awakened, these personalities are not happy campers. The darker, existential theme comes through clearly in Newtown’s Wake – what is it that makes a person a person? Is it a soul, memories, flesh, or being born as a human?
And if strong moral themes aren’t your thing, this novel has more to cater to every sort of sci-fi nerd: faster than light space ships, nanotechnology and wormhole gateways. There’s something here for everyone in Newtown’s Wake.
Finally, a book on our list so deserving of its place not only because it gives us some epic space opera goodness, but also because it actually promotes women as capable of performing the same function as men in science fiction.
Now I know there are going to be readers who may not be able to picture this easily, but just imagine Ripley from Aliens, and you’ll be right.
On Basilisk Station is the first novel in David Weber’s Honorverse series. Commander Honor Harrington is head of the light cruiser Fearless, on mission through the Basilisk system, completing an extensive weapons refit. The excitement of her new command quickly changes when Honor realizes that Fearless has been stripped of its weapons and turned into a testing ground for technological warfare. And this isn’t the worst news – opposing officers decide the safest way to deal with this is to deny Honor the opportunity to use the weapons. Fearless is banished to Basilisk to hide its secret weapon and Honor comes across her old nemesis, Captain Lord Pavel who attempts to sabotage her assignment. Eventually sabotage leads to a coup by Haven against Basilisk, which would lead to an invasion of Manticore. Honor finds herself and her Fearless crew in a position where they must act quickly.
The Honorverse books have made the New York Time Best Seller List.
You know it has to be old school space opera, when the novel’s written by someone called “Doc”. It makes me wonder if this was ever really cool, or just something sci-fi nerds thought was cool and the rest of the world was laughing at until the 80s came along.
First Lensman was first published in 1950 and is still hugely popular today. In a chronological oddity that must have been done to screw with our heads, First Lensman is the second novel in the Lensman series, but the last one written. It tells the story Virgil Samms, a being so incorruptible and courageous that he is given the honor of being the first to wear a “lens” (hence, the First Lensman), which is a form of pseudo-life that gives the wearer telepathic powers. Virgil’s dream is establish a galactic patrol to protect civilization against evil and he finds a selection of “lens worthy” people to make up this force. In a nice 1950s dash of sexism, women are deemed psychologically incapable of wearing a lens. The Lensmen take on a Batman like crusade, fighting the forces of evil in the form of drug traffickers and corrupt politicians and visiting alien planets to seek the pirate fleet that attached their defense headquarters.
Lensman was a runner up for the Hugo Ward for best All Time Series, narrowly beaten by Isaac Asimov for the Foundation series.
Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
Dune (Frank Herbert)
Revelation Space (Alastair Reynolds)
Foundation (Isaac Asimov)
Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
The Reality Dysfunction (Peter Hamilton)
Leviathan Wakes (James S.A. Corey)
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge)
Startide Rising (David Brin)
Barrayar (Lois McMaster Bujold)
The Gap Into Conflict (Stephen R. Donaldson)
Blood Music (Greg Bear)
Ringworld (Larry Niven)
Consider Phlebas (Ian M. Banks)
Gateway (Frederik Pohl)
Tau Zero (Poul Anderson)
Neverness (David Zindell)
The Risen Empire (Scott Westerfield)
Dread Empire's Fall: The Praxis (Walter Jon Williams)
The Centauri Device (Raphael Carter)
Singularity Sky (Charles Stross)
Trading Danger (Elizabeth Moon)
Newton's Wake (Ken MacLeod)
On Basilisk Station (David Weber)
First Lensman (Doc E. Smith)