Do you enjoy Star Wars, you will enjoy these space operas.
Find Some Excitement in a Space Opera
Space opera is little bits of adventure. They take a fantasy or a science fiction and thrown in a hero or two, fantastic locations and some melodrama and you have got a space opera. I know when I am stressed out, or dealing with some anxiety I grab a space opera to help me relax.
“Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms “soap opera” and “horse opera”, the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games.”
My Top Ten Space Operas
Old Man’s War
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.
Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.
The historians can’t seem to settle whether to call this one “The Third Space War” (or the fourth), or whether “The First Interstellar War” fits it better. We just call it “The Bug War.” Everything up to then and still later were “incidents,” “patrols,” or “police actions.” However, you are just as dead if you buy the farm in an “incident” as you are if you buy it in a declared war…
In one of Robert A. Heinlein’s most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind’s most alarming enemy.
The Forever War
The Earth’s leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand—despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy that they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through military ranks. Pvt. Mandella is willing to do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But “home” may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries.
The Mote in God’s Eye
In 3016, the 2nd Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to faster-than-light Alderson Drive. Intelligent beings are finally found from the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud. The bottled-up ancient civilization, at least one million years old, are welcoming, kind, yet evasive, with a dark problem they have not solved in over a million years.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Luna of the 21st century is a penal colony where everyone lives under the dictatorship of the hated Authority. But the inevitable takes place one day when Mike, the master computer who controls everything on Luna devises an intricate revolutionary plot with the help of a professor, a beautiful blonde, and a jack-of-all-trades. The conspirators’ plans go along beautifully for a while…
Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the ‘spice’ melange, the most important and valuable substance in the cosmos. The story explores the complex, multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis.
Published in 1965, it won the Hugo Award in 1966 and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world’s best-selling sf novel
Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
Gateway opened on all the wealth of the Universe… and on reaches of unimaginable horror.
When prospector Robinette Broadhead went out to Gateway on the Heechee spacecraft, he decided he would know which was the right mission to make him his fortune. Three missions later, now famous and permanently rich, Rob Broadhead has to face what happened to him and what he has become… in a journey into himself as perilous and even more horrifying than the nightmare trip through the interstellar void that he drove himself to take!
The Ship Who Sang
Helva had been born human, but only her brain had been saved and implanted into the titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. But first she had to choose a human partner, to soar with her through the daring adventures and exhilarating escapades in space.
Gridlinked is a science fiction adventure in the classic, fast-paced, action-packed tradition of Harry Harrison and Poul Anderson, with a dash of cyberpunk and a splash of Ian Fleming added to spice the mix.
Cormac is a legendary Earth Central Security agent, the James Bond of a wealthy future where “runcibles” (matter transmitters controlled by AIs) allow interstellar travel in an eye blink throughout the settled worlds of the Polity. Unfortunately Cormac is nearly burnt out, “gridlinked” to the AI net so long that his humanity has begun to drain away. He has to take the cold-turkey cure and shake his addiction to having his brain on the net.
Now he must do without just as he’s sent to investigate the unique runcible disaster that’s wiped out the entire human colony on planet Samarkand in a thirty-megaton explosion. With the runcible out, Cormac must get there by ship, but he has incurred the wrath of a vicious psychopath called Arian Pelter, who now follows him across the galaxy with a terrifying psychotic killer android in tow. And deep beneath Samarkand’s surface there are buried mysteries, fiercely guarded.
This is fast-moving, edge-of-the-seat entertainment, and a great introduction to the work of one of the most exciting new SF talents in years.
If you are looking for some fabulous space opera’s, these are a great place to start.
Wow, nice write-up. I am keen to check out Gridlinked and I am currently waiting for the film Dune 🙂 but quite a few of these titles are right up my reading alley. Thanks!
Thank you! I think I will expand it, there are a plethora of great titles.
I’d be keen to see what you add. The Expanse comes to mind also 😊
I used to think of myself as primarily a fantasy reader who occasionally dabbled in some scifi (usually post-apocalyptic or spec fic / SF thriller)… but over the years I feel like I morphed into a scifi reader who enjoys a good fantasy. Let’s face it, there’s so much room for overlap between space opera and fantasy in terms of themes it’s an easy line to cross (or a blurred boundary to get lost in, ymmv).
Recent favourites: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner (giant robots and mysterious aliens, yay!), A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (imperial politics and questions of cultural identity, oooh), Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee (maths as magic! genocidal ghosts trying to change the universe! sentient AI!), and of course anything by Becky Chambers (although maybe she’s edged out under the definition of space opera used here?) or set in Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe (so many complex FEELINGS in SPACE).
Iain M Banks definitely deserves a nod for pulling me into these deep waters with The Culture novels, and the Expanse is a firm favourite. I can’t believe we’re nearly at the end… maybe I can finally make time to read some of the classics 😉
My issue here is that I stuck to ten. I could go on and on. I’m thinking of doing an addendum to this. I’ll be adding all of those! Perfect choices
Yep, it’s easy to feel spoilt for choice with space opera at the moment! I look forward to your addendum 🙂
This is a great list Beth!
Thanks! All killer books. There are so many other books that I could put on here too. I could do top 100.
This was interesting to read! I’ve only recently discovered space operas as a subgenre I enjoy and didn’t know the history. Now I do! And I have some more books to check out…
Yay let me know what you think of these!