Space opera books to satiate your thirst for sci-fi
From Star Wars to shows like The Expanse, people are eagerly consuming high quality sci-fi content, and for fans it is arguably as good as it has ever been. There is a lot of great sci-fi content coming from around the world. But if you are looking for more, if you really want to delve into an immersive world of science fiction, we have a few books like Star Wars (and similar sci-fi projects) to keep you entertained for awhile.
With the recently released Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it feels like a good time to celebrate the fact that science fiction has blossomed into a dominant force in entertainment. In the last year alone we’ve had great indie sci-fi movies like Ex Machina, blockbusters like The Force Awakens, and many more in between. On the TV side we have shows like Wayward Pines, the return of The X-Files, Syfy’s resurgence with shows like the aforementioned The Expanse, and so many others.
There are also several quality sci-fi comics out there, like Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga or Tom King’s current (canceled? uncanceled?) run on The Omega Men. There are so many that the genre has become a feeding ground for movies and TV networks looking for solid source material with an established fanbase.
With the popularity of The Force Awakens (and the resurgence in all things Star Wars it ushered in) and The Expanse, it seems like a good time to focus on one of the more divisive Sci-Fi subgenres, the Space Opera.
Below are a few suggestions of series or single books that should grace your bookshelves or eBook libraries.
Let’s lay some ground rules before someone asks “why didn’t you include X or Y?”
These are all books or series that I have actually read. There’s a ton of great sci-fi out there, and a ton of great space opera stories. I haven’t read them all, but we’ll get there. For our purposes, the definition we’re using for “space opera” is a story that features an adventure set in space, generally across multiple planetary or ship locations, and in some (many) cases a loose relationship with actual science.
First, the obvious
Dune, The Foundation Trilogy, The Forever War, Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey quadrilogy, and other classics.
Let’s get this out of the way. These three books aren’t just science fiction classics, they’re literary classics. If you haven’t read them, do so, right now.
That said, if they weren’t included someone, somewhere would get piss-y and leave a dumb comment asking why their favorite books weren’t on the list. Here they are. They’re great. Read them.
Again, we’re focusing on space operas here. There are hundreds of classic sci-fi books ranging dozens of sub-genres. If you have a few years you should read them all. If you’re looking for a few books to get started with, read on.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
The basis for Syfy’s The Expanse. If you enjoyed the first season of the show, check out the book that it was based on.
A second season for the show is already in the works, but it won’t air until early 2017. If you want to read ahead though, grab the sequel Caliban’s War. A third book, Abaddon’s Gate, was released in 2013.
Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy) by Timothy Zahn
Star Wars is back, and it’s never a bad time to recommend Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy.
There are plenty of decent-to-good Star Wars books, and too, too many bad ones. Fortunately, Zahn’s first Star Wars trilogy hits the mark. Start with Heir and then fall down the deep, dark, disgusting hole that is the old, now deleted Star Wars Expanded Universe.
Or don’t, you’ll probably live happier if you don’t.
Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie
If you’ve followed science fiction at all in the past year, you might have heard of Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. This book essentially swept science fiction and book awards, including the Hugo, BSFA, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.
This book not only has an interesting story about a civil war, AI bodies, and adventure, but it also does some interesting things with language. One of the more prominent examples is how different societies in Justice use gender pronouns.
I would also recommend reading some of the fascinating stories about the problem this book and its pronoun use posed for translators.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
In the genre of Space Opera there are two eras. The first starts around the late 1930s and early 1940s (although one could argue that space adventure novels like Edward Rice Burroughs Barsoom series predates it by about 20 years). This era is when things began to be “operas”: soap, horse, space, etc.
In this period, you see novels like Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and some of Robert A. Heinlein’s early works. This is generally considered “Space Opera.” The new, or most recent era, is considered “New Wave Space Opera” or “New Space Opera”.
For many, Iain M. Banks is the quintessential author of new space opera. It has been argued that the swashbuckling, smuggler adventure, Consider Phlebas, kicked off that new era.
The books follows, Horza, a mercenary who is caught up in the Idiran-Culture war. He gets caught up with pirates who lead him on – essentially – a treasure quest. It’s a universe spanning story about not only adventure but also the societal war that rages all around Horza. Plus, it’s the start of Banks’ great The Culture series.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Hyperion is part one of Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. However, though it is a part of a series, the book stands well enough alone. Simmon’s book utilizes the stories within a story frame, as six pilgrims from across the universe tell their tales while traveling across the planet Hyperion. Our pilgrims journey to the Valley of the Tombs in an attempt to find the time-traveling Shrike. There is a clear and intentional influence that this novel takes from The Canterbury Tales.
Each tale packs adventure, space travel, artificial intelligence, aliens, and more. What makes the book so good is the exploration of humanity’s place in the universe, and how an individual life enmeshes with all that is humanity.
Simmons ability to tell different kinds of stories within the main narrative is absolutely fascinating. This is a book that never really slows down for a reader.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
For the most part, books on this list fall into the slightly more serious side of space opera, despite how campy books in the genre can get. Scalzi’s Old Man’s War falls squarely on the campy side of the equation, while still being a rollicking space adventure.
Scalzi has a penchant for humor (check out his Star Trek sendup Redshirts for more proof), but it doesn’t take away from the fun ride that his stories actually are. We’re not talking Douglas Adams humor here, just a wry way of looking at the universe.
In the future, elderly people are recruited to join the Colonial Defense Force. They find out when they join up that the CDF has found a way to move a person’s consciousness from one body to another. In return for their service, the old Earthlings are given, basically, super-soldier bodies that happen to be green. John Perry finds himself fighting a bevy of alien enemies across the universe in a seemingly never-ending war. Through a chance meeting with a CDF special forces unit (extra-super soldiers), Perry discovers a plot to ambush the entire CDF Navy.
It’s action with a side of humor, and well worth the read.
On Basilisk Station by David Weber
Sci-Fi, like many genres, is male-dominated when it comes to main characters , which is why David Weber’s Honorverse series is a breath of female fresh air.
Honor Harrington is a capable, bad-ass commander of the Royal Manticoran naval military cruiser, the Fearless. A series of failures engineered by a superior officer finds Harrington’s ship given janitor duty on a backwoods planet.
Of course, we soon find out that the planet isn’t considered unimportant by the Royalty’s enemies, and as the lone ship in the region, Harrington has to use her wits to outsmart and outgun the nefarious plot she finds herself facing.
The pacing is quick, the characters fun, and the plot interesting enough for the ride.
The Star My Destination by Alfred Bester
Originally published in 1957, Stars My Destination is both a product of its times, and far, far ahead of it.
Originally published in the UK as Tiger, Tiger!, the novel is a futuristic retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, but with a twist – or several twists. After an accident leaves an unambitious and unremarkable merchant, Gully Foyle, stranded in space, he survives long enough to see a private spaceship pass by and leave him for dead. The slight fuels Foyle’s rage, keeping him alive until his rescue. After identifying the ship’s owners and realizing their elevated status and power, he reinvents himself as an elite member of society to seek revenge.
The story sounds straightforward enough, but it also introduces concepts like “jaunting,” a method of personal teleportation that defines the economy of the galaxy. Jaunting pushes the boundaries of reality, and in some cases goes beyond it. It is a mind-bending story, although it does feature a touch of 1950s misogyny.
Sci-fi author Harry Harrison called Bester one of the authors who “invented modern science fiction.” His career as a novelist was sadly limited, but he left a big mark.
Any suggestions of books like Star Wars, The Expanse, or others for fans?
Let us know!