Space opera and military science fiction are genres that have benefited tremendously from the boom in indie publishing. If nothing else, geeks love space and thus the kind of people who own kindles and other e-readers are inclined to check out this pair of genres. However, there’s a massive amount of books that can be intimidating for readers to sort through. This is in addition to all the wonderfully traditionally published books that can be found on Barnes and Noble or Amazon’s websites.
Rather than take on the daunting task of recommending twenty science fiction novels in space that are published by someone other than the “Big Six” publishers, my friend Steve Caldwell and I have decided to combine our respective love of the genre to talk about stories that you can’t go wrong with. Yes, some of these books have some rough edges but others are just plain fantastic. All of them are worth giving a read. I should know, I’ve written my own in Lucifer’s Star and Space Academy Dropouts.
Here is part 1.
C.T. PHIPPS’ PICKS
Poor Man’s Fight by Elliot Kay
Poor Man’s Fight is the story of student debt combined with Starship Troopers. A young man fails to get into the college of his choice and decides he’s going to end up enlisting in hopes of escaping his financial situation: a very common story in the real world. The difference is that it is in space and rapidly becomes Die Hard with a luxury liner. I very much enjoyed this military sci-fi coming-of-age drama and while it’s not the most original story, I read the rest of the series immediately thereafter.
What it is About?
“This test completes your compulsory education. Congratulations! You have graduated high school. Your financial obligation is 67,879 credits. Please visit our loan officer as you exit.”
Tanner Malone never bought into military myths of honor and glory. He never wanted to wear a uniform or medals. Yet when family upheaval brings his otherwise stellar performance in school to a disastrous end, Tanner’s plans for university lie in ruins. Facing homelessness and a mountain of debt, Tanner enlists in his home planet’s tiny navy.
It’s a hell of a time to sign up. Vicious pirates stalk the space lanes, claiming to fight an oppressive economic system even as they shed innocent blood. Civil war looms beyond the borders of Tanner’s home star system of Archangel. Corporate security fleets are nowhere to be found when trouble arises.
In response, Archangel begins ambitious military expansion. Basic training becomes six months of daily bare knuckle brawls, demanding cross-training and constant stress. Brutal as it is, Tanner will need the preparation. The pirates grow more audacious with every attack. As if that’s not enough, Tanner is assigned to a small ship whose disgruntled crew has no patience for cerebral new recruits, and they’re on the front lines of all of Archangel’s woes.
Tanner soon learns there is only one way to deal with his bullying comrades, their ruthless foes and the unforgiving void of space, and that’s to get up close and personal.
Starship’s Mage by Glynn Stewart
Glynn Stewart is a master of writing science fiction and space opera. However, of all of his series, my favorite has to be Starship’s Mage. In the future, magic has been unlocked via alien genetic engineering and is the sole way to to travel faster than light. Our protagonist just wants to get a job hauling freight but events make him an outlaw. However, it’s actually the beginning of a massive destiny that is an easily-readable epic.
What it is about?
In a galaxy tied together by the magic of the elite Jump Magi, Damien Montgomery is a newly graduated member of their number.
With no family or connections to find a ship, he is forced to service on an interstellar freighter known to be hunted by pirates.
When he takes drastic action to save the “Blue Jay” from their pursuers, he sets in motion a sequence of events beyond his control – and attracts enemies on both sides of the law!
Starship’s Mage was originally released as five separate episodes.
Star Quest: The Journey Begins by Patricia Lee Macomber
Patricia Macomber’s Star Quest novels are on the much lighter side of reading. Humanity has already won a war against an alien invasion and now they’ve decided to use their reverse-engineered alien technology to explore the galaxy. It’s a shameless Star Trek homage and I loved every minute of it, especially as humanity doesn’t have any idea what sort of rules there should be for space travel.
What is it About?
Cara Bishop already saved the world. Now, with the war over and the aliens defeated, she’s teaching other pilots to fly the alien ships that turned the tide. Until the government approaches her about joining a super secret mission, that is.
Steve Hunter is the product of alien DNA. He was created in a lab, designed to destroy the aliens in a ground war that was never fought. Now, they’re finally putting him to use as the leader of this new mission.
Together with the scientist who created Steve and the genius who invented the ship, Cara and her captain set off on a final adventure. The U.S.S. Endeavor goes in search of allies among the stars. What they find is more than they ever bargained for. If their mission is to be a success, they will have to solve a mystery and escape destruction at the hands of an all new foe. All in a day’s work for the Endeavor crew.
Expeditionary Force: Columbus Day by Craig Alanson
Expeditionary Force is a interesting story of self-publishing success as it went from a mild success to something that is approaching a phenomenon thanks to the narration of R.C. Bray. While I strongly recommend the audiobook version of this series over the written, I still enjoyed it both ways. It’s the story of humanity getting into space as part of an alien visitor’s forces, only to find out our patrons are scumbags and we’re hopelessly outmatched by everyone. However, a chance encounter gives one schlub a super-advanced AI that changes everything.
What is it About?
We were fighting on the wrong side, of a war we couldn’t win. And that was the good news.
The Ruhar hit us on Columbus Day. There we were, innocently drifting along the cosmos on our little blue marble, like the native Americans in 1492. Over the horizon come ships of a technologically advanced, aggressive culture, and BAM! There go the good old days, when humans only got killed by each other. So, Columbus Day. It fits.
When the morning sky twinkled again, this time with Kristang starships jumping in to hammer the Ruhar, we thought we were saved. The UN Expeditionary Force hitched a ride on Kristang ships to fight the Ruhar, wherever our new allies thought we could be useful. So, I went from fighting with the US Army in Nigeria, to fighting in space. It was lies, all of it. We shouldn’t even be fighting the Ruhar, they aren’t our enemy, our allies are.
I’d better start at the beginning…
Hard Luck Hank: Screw the Galaxy by Steven Campbell
Contrary to the other stories in this list, Hard Luck Hank is a space opera story about someone who is not a galactic hero or a military commander. Indeed, Hank is a real piece of garbage that serves as a petty leg breaker on a space station in the vast Colmarrian Federation. He’s a great character with a Patrick Warburton-esque vibe even when he’s not having his narrator speak like him. I really enjoyed this book series and while it drags in places, the first novel is note perfect.
What is it About?
Hank is a thug. He knows he’s a thug. He has no problem with that realization. In his view the galaxy has given him a gift: a mutation that allows him to withstand great deals of physical trauma. He puts his abilities to the best use possible and that isn’t by being a scientist.
Besides, the space station Belvaille doesn’t need scientists. It is not, generally, a thinking person’s locale. It is the remotest habitation in the entire Colmarian Confederation. There is literally no reason to be there.
Unless you are a criminal.
Because of its location, Belvaille is populated with nothing but crooks. Every day is a series of power struggles between the crime bosses.
Hank is an intrinsic part of this community as a premier gang negotiator. Not because he is eloquent or brilliant or an expert combatant, but because if you shoot him in the face he keeps on talking.
Hank believes he has it pretty good until a beautiful and mysterious blue woman enters his life with a compelling job offer.
Hank and Belvaille, so long out of public scrutiny, suddenly find themselves at the epicenter of the galaxy with a lot of very unwelcome attention.
Into the Dark (Alexis Carew #1) by JA Sutherland
Steampunk is something that is normally not associated with space opera. However, Into the Dark is a delightful Honor Harrington-esque story of a young woman joining a starship crew to escape a sexist society on her home colony. The Navy proves to be even worse in some respects but few people are as capable or determined as Alexis Carew in her desire to prove themselves. Sails, rum, and the lash are part of Her Majesty’s Navy but so are darkspace shoals as well as space pirates. Fun for the whole family!
What is it About?
At 15, Alexis Carew has to face an age-old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few. She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other females.
The Skald’s Black Verse (The Dreadbound Ode #1) by Jordan Loyal Short
https://www.amazon.com/Skalds-Black-Verse-Dreadbound-Book-ebook/dp/B07K826497 Warhammer 40K is its own unique brand of storytelling, combining dark fantasy with post-apocalypse space opera. The Skald’s Black Verse is set on a distant planet that has degenerated to Viking-like barbarism and occupied by a brutal intergalatic empire that is, itself, barely hovering above Medieval ethics. It’s dark, gritty, and full of both magic as well as twisted gods. Michael Moorcock and Black Library would be proud.
What is it About?
Brohr has been lied to, abused.
All he wants is to live in peace, away from the ignorance of his village, to outrun the raging ghost which haunts him.
But a hidden evil seeks to harness Brohr’s fury.
Accused of murder, hunted by ruthless soldiers, Brohr delves the way of the Skald, unlocking forbidden blood magic as he unearths terrible family secrets.
When the red moon is broken, and all is lost, it’s up to Brohr to lead a rebellion, or face the end of the world.
Starship for Sale by M.R. Forbes
I was a big fan of The Last Starfighter movie that is one of my guilty-pleasures. Basically, a young man’s skill at video games results in him getting recruited into a cosmic space force. Except, this time it’s a con man and he’s actually trying to bilk his friend out of an inheritance. The starship is real, though, and so are all the troubles when our teenage heroes get themselves sent into space. I really enjoyed this book and it is my favorite of M.R. Forbes’ works.
What is it About?
When Ben Murdock receives a text message offering a fully operational starship for sale, he’s certain it has to be a joke.
Already trapped in the worst day of his life and desperate for a way out, he decides to play along. Except there is no joke. The starship is real. And Ben’s life is going to change in ways he never dreamed possible.
All he has to do is sign the contract.
Joined by his streetwise best friend and a bizarre tenant with an unseverable lease, he’ll soon discover that the universe is more volatile, treacherous, and awesome than he ever imagined.
And the only thing harder than owning a starship is staying alive.
If you like found starships, unlikely heroes and intergalactic mayhem, you’ll love Starship For Sale, the latest sci-fi adventure from bestselling author M.R. Forbes.
Backyard Starship by JN Chaney, Terry Maggert
A somewhat similar book to Starship for Sale, Val Tudor inherits his grandfather’s starship as well as all of his debts. I really enjoy this kind of “fish out of water” stories and seeing an adult man get the chance to explore the universe after a life on Plain Ol’ Earth is an interesting twist on the subject. The book has a great sense of humor and also a really good grasp of tension. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but just seriously enough to be great fun.
What is it About?
When Van Tudor returns to his childhood home, he inherits more than the family farm.
His grandfather used to tell him fantastic stories of spacemen and monsters, princesses and galactic knights. Little did Van realize, the old man’s tales were more than fiction; they were real.
Hidden beneath the old barn, Van’s legacy is waiting: a starship, not of this world. With his combat AI, an android bird named Perry, Van takes his first steps into the wider galaxy. He soon finds that space is far busier and more dangerous than he could have ever conceived.
Destiny is calling. His grandfather’s legacy awaits.
Embark on the adventure of a lifetime with USA Today best-selling author J.N. Chaney and Terry Maggert in this galactic quest for glory.
Assassination Protocol (Cerberus #1) by Andy Peloquin
Assassination Protocol is about a crippled former Space Marine named Nolan Garrett. Nolan’s brother is in maximum security prison and the only way to keep him safe (and possibly free him) is to serve as an assassin for a galactic star empire. Armed with an AI and special suit of armor, Nolan is beneath suspicion but his bosses are as untrustworthy as a rattlesnake and his big heart is bound to get him in more trouble than even he can handle. I binged the entire twelve book series when I read the first book.
What is it About?
Nolan Garrett is Cerberus. A government assassin, tasked with fixing the galaxy’s darkest, ugliest problems.
Three thrilling novels featuring fearless heroes, non-stop futuristic action, and neck-breaking plot twists.
Armed with cutting-edge weapons and an AI-run cybernetic suit that controls his paralyzed legs, he is the fist in the shadows, the dagger to the heart of the Nyzarian Empire’s enemies.
Then, he found Bex on his doorstep….
A junkie, high on the drug he’d fought for years to avoid, and a former elite soldier like him. So he takes her in to help her get clean – Silverguards never leave their own behind.
If only he’d known his actions would put him in the crosshairs of the most powerful cartel in New Avalon.
Facing an army of gangbangers, drug pushers, and thugs, Nolan must fight to not only carry out his mission, but to prevent the escalating violence from destroying everything he loves.
This Special Edition Omnibus contains the first three books in the thrilling Cerberus military space opera series. It’s perfect for fans of JN Chaney, Jay Allan, and Rick Partlow. Grab your copy today!
Because it’s my list, here’s an 11th recommendation because why not?
Against All Odds (Grimm’s War #1) by Jeffrey Haskell
Jacob Grimm thought he was going to be a hero when he managed to wipe out an entire flotilla of enemy starships engaged in a sneak attack. However, it turned out some of those ships contained cargoes of children. Exiled to the rear-end of space, he unwittingly becomes a pawn in an attempt to rebuild the gutted Navy. But is he going to do too good of a job in his new assignment? What if he has a chance to make right his awful mistake? Can he?
What is it About?
Wrong crew. Wrong ship. Right captain.
Idealistic navy Lieutenant Jacob Grimm just wanted to honor his mother’s sacrifice in the last great war. When he’s forced to return fire and destroy a squadron of ships to save his own, he thinks he’s the hero….
Until they discover the ships are full of children.
Disgraced and denied promotion, Jacob’s career is over. That is until the head of ONI needs a disposable officer to command a battered destroyer on the rim.
There’s just one problem: Interceptor hasn’t had a CO in months, and the ship is a mess. Worse, the system he’s assigned to is corrupt and on the verge of all-out civil war with the Alliance.
However, no one told Jacob he was disposable.
Pirates, smugglers, and Caliphate spies complicate the situation, and one captain with an old ship can’t enforce the law, let alone stop anyone.
The single greatest discovery of all time is about to change intergalactic politics forever. If Jacob doesn’t find a way to succeed, then it won’t just be the end of the Alliance, it will be the end of freedom for humanity.