12 space opera stories worth reading

spaceopera
Illustration by Chris McGrath

I don’t know about you, but I love a good space opera. I know faster than light travel will in all likelihood never happen but it makes for darn fine fiction. I grew up with Star Wars and a stack of middle grade science fiction books that didn’t give a darn about the science. I adored Firefly and whenever a space opera movie is running in the theaters I am there. Good space opera to me is all about the plot, the drama, the characters and not about the science of their spaceships. However really interesting space opera play with the implications on society of the world building they have set up. They ask the what-if questions of science fiction but doesn’t let the science slow down the story one bit. I have picked out the best I have read in the genre. I am drawn to strong female characters so expect those. I have mixed in books, comics and short stories and novellas. Enjoy!

Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel  Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi
I will kick this list off with a book about a black spaceship mechanic who also happens to be female, gay and chronically ill. The book is fast paced, it got all the drama and action you can wish for. The crew of the ship is a diverse group of outcasts that cares deeply for each other and will do anything for each other – Firefly style.
Read my full review

Trading in Danger Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
Series: Vatta’s War
Kylara Vatta was kicked out of the space navy of her planet. Her parents are COEs of a major space trading company so they send her with a ship to take the ship on a last run. Kylara got a competent crew to help her on this first trip as a space captain. The series is the story of her finding her feet in civilian life and her getting involved in some major action. I will not spoil it for you any more. The series is well worth reading. Moon is an officer her self so the military details feels very real and the same goes for the interactions between the civilian and the navy crew that comes into play.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Series: Hitchhiker’s Guide
I can’t do this list without one of my favourite books of all time. I read it at just the right age, so it holds a special place in my heart. If you have for some reason not read it yet, do yourself the favour of reading one of the funniest science fiction books written. It is very British and sometimes the humor is totally crazy Alice in Wonderland style while it at other times is underplayed and deadpanned.

8855321 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Series: Expanse
This is a solar system space opera – a new flavour of space opera with all the trappings of space opera but within our own solar system and without faster than light travel. The story is about colonisation and the rebellion of the outer planets to the inner planets tyranny.  That makes for some great action with two very different protagonists at the control. One deeply broken – noir style – and one so much an idealist that he gets himself into trouble. It is a page turner and it kept me up till late at night.

Red Shirts Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
Red Shirts is another really funny book. Scalzi is ripping on Star Trek and the narrative of space opera television. It is laugh out loud funny and it had me laughing like an idiot walking down the street listing to it. It gets quite metafictional at times but that never gets in the way of the drama, the action and the fun.
Read my full review

Ancillary Justice Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Series: Imperial Radch
The book is about an A.I. hiding in a human body. She used to be a spaceship, but is no longer that. She tries to navigate a human world. It is an epic science fiction story of the same kind of cloth that Dune was cut from. The book has quite moments as well a chaters full of action and high paced plot. The book plays with gender a lot and has some awesome worldbuilding. It is going to win a tons of rewards this year.
Read my full review

Hunting Party Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon
Series: The Serrano Legacy
Heris Serrano is x-space navy and gets hired on as a spaceship captain on an old lady’s yard. It turns out not to be so boring a job after all as they get involved in politics and battles. The series is great space opera with plot, action and personal dramas. It thinks about the implications of regeneration for the super rich so they can extend their lifetime infinitely. What sort of effects would that have on society? I have reread the whole series at least three times.

15897047 The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper
Series: Ruby’s Song
The Creative Fire is a book about a revolution. It is a book about growing up. It is a book about wanting and achieving change in an oppressive society. It is a book about the power of song. I loved this book – it was so engaging, with strong characters, a generation ship, relationships and lots of action. Unlike many generation ship stories Ruby does not fall madly in love with the only boy her own age. The book is too complex for that. It is a great read and a great listen.
Read my full review

Other fiction

The Battle of Candle Arc by Yoon Ha Lee
Short story, free online
I think it was wonderful to read a military Sci fi story that was not about the battle but still let it play a key role. And I also liked the terminology riffs – I love it when writers assumes that their readers are smart enough to follow them. I found it really refreshing to have this level of emotion in a military story.

All the Painted Stars by Gwendolyn Clare
Short story, free online
An amazing story about a person who is also a spaceship, who interacts with humans for the first time. A very touching story and such an unusual spaceship.

A Jar of Goodwill by Tobias S. Buckell
Short story, free online
Alex Mosette is in oxygen debt and has to take a mission she don’t really want. The story takes out out onto a new planet with a crew of regular humans and our protagonist who isn’t. I will just say that it is one of the best stories I read last year and let you discover it for yourself.

 Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer) & Fiona Staples (Illustrator)
Comic/graphic novel
The drawings are magical and the story is really interesting. The two protagonists are fleeing from their planet with their newborn baby on the arm from the most crazy creatures who are out to kill them because they are a dangerous symbol, and symbols are dangerous. And it won tons of awards last year.

It is a genre that I have not read huge amounts in so the list is shorter than some of my other lists. If you have suggestions for books you think I will like, leave a comment!

I have made an updated list (in danish) at HvaFan Blog, with a lot of newer works. At some point I will translate it and add them to here.

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