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Best Space Opera Books (OLD AND MERGED WITH NEW)
Big ships, big battles,and many characters are some of the key elements behind space opera. The Space Opera is one of the most popular science fiction sub genres because it's exciting as hell.
There's usually lots and lots of conflict between humans, and often with aliens. There's large scale conflicts, bigger battles, and inimical forces that just may be plotting the destruction of humanity.
You might think of Space Opera a bit like a Soap Opera, but a lot more exciting with dramatic tension between characters thrown in at every turn.
Note. This list is being updated
Books in Rama Series (3)
And if you like Rendezvous with Rama, check out some more of his work â?? we recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood's End for starters
Books in Foundation Series (9)
Forty years after the first of the stories that became Foundation was published in Astounding, Asimov returned to the series with a sequel, Foundation's Edge, followed by a further sequel, Foundation and Earth. After this he wrote two prequels to the trilogy, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. To be honest, they're not a patch on the original trilogy, despite the fact that Foundation's Edge won both a Hugo and a Locus Award.
If you LOVE hard science fiction, there's been a lot that stands out since Foundation. For hard science fiction that's highly regarded, check out the Ringworld series by Larry Niven. For space opera science fiction with grand ideas about alien civilizations, read A Fire Upon the Deep.
You might also want to check out the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. Both of these are not 'hard' science fiction, but some of the ideas are certainly realistic about space travel, alien civilizations, and contact.
Books in Revelation Space Series (4)
House of Suns is another epic, set six million years in the future, with long-lived clones who regularly circumnavigate the entire galaxy and a race of sentient robots, there are ambushes and betrayals, and a high-speed chase that lasts thousands of years and takes us as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. If that's not enough to excite your sense of wonder, you really shouldn't be reading science fiction.
Reynolds's most recent work is also on a grand scale. The Poseidon's Children trilogy starts, in Blue Remembered Earth, in a near future when Africa is the world's leading technological power, and two members of a powerful African clan gather cryptic clues that lead them to the outer reaches of the solar system. By the time of the second volume, On the Steel Breeze, it is 200 years later and a fleet of generation starships are approaching a world where mysterious signals have been observed, but there's treachery afoot, while the legacy of events from the first volume still linger. The third volume, Poseidon's Wake, takes us yet further into the future and out to other stars to encounter the mysterious aliens hinted at in the first two books.
If you're in to space opera, don't forget the granddaddy of them all, E.E. "Doc" Smith, whose seven volume Lensman series begins with two galaxies colliding, and just gets bigger. By the end of the series suns and planets are being tossed about as weapons in a massive interstellar war.
Books in The Ender Quintet Series (3)
Books in The Night's Dawn Series (2)
Books in The Frontiers Saga Series (14)
Books in Zones Of Thought Series (2)
Vernor Vinge has so far written two more novels set within the Zones of Thought.
A Deepness in the Sky, which won the Hugo, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is a prequel set some 20,000 years before the events of A Fire Upon the Deep. Set in the Slow Zone, it is about what happens when an intelligent species is discovered on a planet orbiting an anomalous star, a system that may have entered the Slow Zone from the Transcendent.
The Children of the Sky is a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, but it is set entirely on Tinesworld. The surviving humans on the planet start to fall into warring factions, and while trying to raise the technological status of the Tines they also unleash further wars. A Deepness in the Sky is every bit the equal of A Fire Upon the Deep, but The Children of the Sky feels rather flat and limited by comparison; a decent read, but not a great one. However, there are clearly more Zones of Thought stories to come.
The Outcasts of Heaven Belt, the first novel by VernorVinge's then-wife, Joan D. Vinge, about an escalating conflict between male and female dominated societies in the asteroid belt is also set within the Zones of Thought, or at least so Joan Vinge has claimed.
For an unusual adaptation of the Zones of Thought idea, try Jo Walton's fantasy novel, Lifelode, in which she adapts the Zones of Thought as zones of magical ability.
Books in The Uplift Saga Series (5)
Books in Vorkosigan Saga Series (37)
Books in Gap Series (5)
Greg Bear also dealt with nanotechnology in Queen of Angels and its sequel, Slant. In the near future, nanotechnology has been used in psychotherapy so that now the vast majority of people have gone through the technique that ensures they are well-integrated, happy and content. Then a famous writer commits a gruesome murder, the sort of crime that should not exist in this therapied world. At the same time, an AI operating a space probe discovers signs of life around Alpha Centauri and simultaneously achieves artificial intelligence. The two novels together tell a fascinating story in which questions of identity, who we are and how we got there, are always central.
Bear has also written some monumental hard sf, of which the best is probably Eon, in which a mysterious asteroid comes close to earth and is revealed to contain mysterious tunnels and long-abandoned cities, and at the end the corridor opens out way beyond the physical limits of the asteroid, taking us into an extraordinary pocket universe.
Books in Ringworld Series (4)
Niven wrote three sequels to Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, which is the best of them, The Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children, but as usual none of them have the thrill or the sense of wonder that the original generated. There's also a bunch of related novels that Niven co-wrote with Edward M. Lerner, but unless you're a completist you can probably leave these alone.
However, some of the earlier Known Space works, such as The World of Ptaavs, Protector and the collection Neutron Star are well worth reading.
However, our Alternative Choice is the first novel Niven co-wrote with Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God's Eye. This is one of the great stories of first contact, a big, rambling space opera full of twists and sudden discoveries that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through a long book. An encounter with an alien craft sends a human expedition to the sun known as the Mote, where they discover a curious race of technologically advanced aliens who, at first, seem very peaceful. Slowly, however, we discover the devastatingly violent secret that lies behind this faÃ?Â§ade.
If you love the idea of the Ringworld, you should also try Orbitsville by Bob Shaw. The Ringworld is essentially a slice taken out of a Dyson Sphere, but Orbitsville is a full Dyson Sphere. The story, which won the BSFA Award, and its two sequels, Orbitsville Departure and Orbitsville Judgement, concern the mystery of a habitable shell completely surrounding a star, and what it might mean for the humans who discover it.
Books in Culture Series (11)
Books in Heechee Saga Series (5)
Books in A Requiem For Homo Sapiens Series (3)
Books in Succession Series (3)
Books in Dread Empire's Fall Series (4)
Books in Eschaton Series (1)
Books in Vatta's War Series (6)
Books in Honor Harrington Series (16)
Books in Lensman Series (5)
Books in Skylark Series (3)
"Doc" Smith wrote another ludicrous space opera series, the Lensman novels, consisting of Triplanetary, First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, GrayLensman, Second Stage Lensman and Children of the Lens. Triplanetary opens with two galaxies colliding, and things just get bigger from there on in. By the end of the series, planets and suns are casually being tossed about as weapons in a galactic war. To say it is improbable is an understatement, and the characterisation makes cardboard look lively, but it is still a lot of gosh-wow fun.
Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers by Harry Harrison is a funny parody of "Doc" Smith, as if the original wasn't parodic enough.
For rather better space opera, try the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson, The Gap into Conflict: the Real Story, The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge, The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises, The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order and The Gap into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die. The Gap is a faster than light drive, which allows the stories to cover great areas of interstellar space as we follow the machinations of the United Mining Companies against a backdrop of war with the alien Amnion.
Books in Imperial Radch Series (2)
The sequel to the novel is already out. Ancillary Sword gives Breq control of a new ship, and sends her across the galaxy to protect the family of the lieutenant she once murdered in cold blood.
Other powerful space operas with a contemporary feel include Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh, a fast-moving story set in research stations around the toxic planet Cyteen. The story includes clones and rejuvenation, faster than light travel, wars and murder. It won both the Hugo and Locus Awards.
Dust by Elizabeth Bear is set aboard a generation starship that was badly damaged ages before. Over the centuries, the crew have divided into warring factions, but now the nearby binary stars are on the verge of falling into each other, and a way must be found to unite the warring factions or the whole ship will be lost.
Greenland took the story of Tabitha Jute on through two more novels, Seasons of Plenty and Mother of Plenty plus a collection of stories, The Plenty Principle. They are fun to read and very entertaining, though they don't quite match the flair of the original.
Other authors whose work was essential in stimulating the New Space Opera include Paul McAuley, especially his early trilogy of Four Hundred Billion Stars, Secret Harmonies and Eternal Light, which, as the title of the first volume might suggest, take the entire galaxy as the backdrop for stories of interstellar warfare, genetic engineering, immortality, and a dramatic journey to the very core of the galaxy. The novels marked McAuley out as one of the major new writers of hard sf, and are still wonderful reading today.
Bester's other great novel is The Demolished Man, which won the very first Hugo Award. It asks the question: how do you get away with murder in a society in which telepathy is so common that the police can know everything going on in your mind? Told in a free and easy manner, with lots of wordplay and typographical tricks, it is another novel that clearly deserves to be recognised as a classic.
If you are fascinated by Bester's adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, you should also check out Spirit: or the Princess of Bois Dormant by Gwyneth Jones, which also uses the Dumas novel as a model for a story of interstellar adventure. In this case it's also a sequel to her award-winning Aleutian Trilogy.
For another modern space opera with Bester's fingerprints all over it, check out The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate and Cibola Burn. The co-author, Daniel Abraham, acknowledges Bester as a major influence then goes on to list what elements of the story are owed to The Stars My Destination:http://www.danielabraham.com/2012/01/30/paying-tribute-the-stars-my-destination/
Books in The Star Kings Series (1)
Books in Vorkosigan Saga Series (37)
Books in Hyperion Cantos Series (3)
Dan Simmons has written an incredible range of books, from mainstream to horror, but if you like The Hyperion Cantos, you really should give his other science fiction duology a read: Illuim and Olympus. They are fantastic books that also borrow literary conceits and reuse them in an extravagant science fiction setting; in this case, Simmons takes on the Odyssey and the Illiad but shifts the events of the Trojan War to a far future Earth and Mars. Hell there's even discussion about Shakespeare by some of the characters. A must read.
For a wild ride into big space opera territory, give Peter Hamilton's works a go. You could start with his Night's Dawn Trilogy which includes The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God -- it's an absolutely massive space opera series with a gripping plot that includes the souls of the dead coming back to possess the living, that keeps you glued to the page from the start to the very end. For a vast space opera with a huge universe, massive cast of characters, a quality story, you should also take a good look at Peter Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga, Misspent Youth, Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained.
Hyperion Cantos is a dark series with themes of death, suffering, and tragedy pervading the story. For the ultimate "downer" science fiction space opera, give Stephen R. Donaldson's five-volume Gap Cycle a go. It deals with adult themes and the world presented is not a sugar-coated "the future is bright and human kind is good" kind that most space operas follow.
Books in Dune Chronicles Series (7)
Don't let the bloat of the later Dune novels put you off. You really should read some of Frank Herbert's other novels.
The Dragon in the Sea is another novel of depleted natural resources, in this case oil following a decade-long war between West and East. But the nuclear submarines that the West is using to harvest the scarce oil are simply disappearing. It's not the great world-building epic of Dune, but it is a gripping thriller with a strong message.
The Eyes of Heisenberg is set in a future in which the majority of people on Earth are ruled by the genetically superior Optimen. In the main the rule seems benevolent, despite the fact that the Optimen have dramatically restricted technological development, but a resistance movement is starting to develop. The future world is very vividly drawn, and this is another of the gripping plots that Herbert seemed to produce effortlessly.
Hellstrom's Hive takes what Herbert called "the most horrible kind of civilization you could imagine", and then makes them into the good guys. The horrible civilization is the sort of regimented, highly structured life of social insects; but when a group of humans try to live this way, they are disrupted by the intrusion of government agents.
Dune is a one-off, there is no other novel quite like it. But if you are looking for a novel set in a richly imagined desert landscape with a serious ecological message, you could turn to The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.