Space opera is the genre most people think of when they think of science fiction. Probably because it involves spaceships, aliens and fantastical far off worlds.
Yet the genre is much more interesting and wide ranging than many people realise. So we’ve picked these diverse and excellent novels as our top nine must read space operas.
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
A space opera with a cyberpunk soul. Augmented humans, space pirates and a plot that spans decades and moves inexorably to its conclusion.
Like any good space opera, Revelation Space takes the reader on a tour of a vast galaxy full of strange planets, peoples and occasionally aliens. As the reader is taken through the story, one mystery takes the place of another and only at the end can all the dots be joined together.
Revelation Space is a bitter novel that paints humanity’s exploration in a bleak light. Yet it is still an enchanting novel that draws the reader in.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Unlike Revelation Space, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is an uplifting novel. The plot follows The Wayfairer, a crew of aliens and humans, as they undertake a contract to forge a wormhole to a distant planet.
The plot in this novel is somewhat secondary to the journey through a varied galaxy containing a range of different types of alien that for the most part get on.
Through this journey the novel focuses on the core theme of acceptance, something it manages to do without ever being trite.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
A tense truce between humans on Earth, Mars and those who mine the asteroid belt is about to be broken in a way they least expect.
A drunken detective that could have been taken from the pages of a Raymond Chandler noir, a heroic officer on an ice miner who stumbles across a secret so big it could start war, and a cutthroat politician on earth trying to keep the peace. The plot of Leviathan Wakes takes people from very different social classes and locations and throws them together in an interstellar mystery.
Leviathan Wakes is a tense space opera that provides a fantastic opening for the Expanse series and is a great work in its own right.
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
A Fire Upon the Deep is set in the far future in a universe where a mind’s location in space determines its potential. It includes a range of aliens including the vicious Aprahanti, the plant like Skroders, the canid Tines and the ancient Blight amongst other.
The novel was released in 1992 and is already considered a classic, especially by those who enjoy space opera.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice was Leckie’s first novel and the first in the Imperial Radch trilogy. Following its release the novel has won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, BSFA Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award and Locus Award and been nominated for even more.
Set in a future where sentient ships control human bodies and gender has become meaningless. Ancillary Justice is a thought provoking novel that has made a huge splash in recent years.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Considered by many to be the greatest science fiction book ever written, Dune is certainly operatic. It’s a tale of political intrigue, vengeance, warfare and romance played out on a grand scale.
The messianic Paul Atreides is stranded on a desert world when his family is betrayed. From this position he rises up and becomes a man, then a leader and then something akin to a God.
Along the way the reader is introduced to the desert dwelling Fremen and the iconic Sand Worms.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender is one of the few child geniuses special enough to be enrolled for battle school. A school where prepubescent minds are moulded into soldiers. Like The Forever War, but for pre-teens. These soldiers are being trained to protect humanity against the Bugger Threat. The ‘Buggers’ being a race of insectoid aliens who have attempted to invade the earth.
What follows is a story about relationships under pressure and how the human faculty for empathy relates to its ability to wage war.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams
Probably the funniest and most enjoyable series of novels in all of science fiction. Hitchhikers guide follows Arthur Dent across a universe that is increasingly incomprehensible to him.
No short summary can do justice to a novel that every science fiction fan absolutely must read. It simply contains too much wit and wisdom to be relayed here. But, what we can tell you is, every page contains bizarre ideas that will make you laugh and then make you think.
And, eventually, the reader learns the meaning life and gets to read God’s final message to his creation.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Seven travellers are making a pilgrimage to meet a time travelling nightmare that impales its victims for eternity on a ‘tree’, each knowing that only one of them will be allowed to live.
Hyperion is a unique novel that has spawned a loyal following since its publication. The novel is told largely through a series of tales the travellers are telling each other. Each has their own science fiction style and flavour.
Overall, the novel is a classic space opera as it introduces the reader to a vast intergalactic empire.