If you like Dune

20 great space operas

Space Opera is a subgenre of science fiction that can be hard to pin down, but there is one pretty simple key: scale. Space Opera is BIG, with high stakes, high drama, and most importantly high concepts. Good points of reference are Star Wars and Star Trek, but delving into written Space Opera can reveal stories that are larger, stranger and showcase some of the best talents (old and new) in sci-fi. Here are twenty-five novels that give just a taste of what space opera can be.

One of our librarians, Randy Decker, selects the fantasy, science fiction and horror books for the library. As part of that, he not only checks out the reviews, but in addition actually reads quite a few of the books that he buys for the library. Listed below are his suggested space operas. His favorites are marked with a star ( )

Printable list
Last updated 2/16/2022

Picture of book cover for The SoldierThe Soldier by Neal Asher
First in the Rise of the Jain series.
“Humanity, artificial intelligences, and monstrous aliens clash over control of deadly technology in this explosive beginning to Neal Asher’s newest Polity series. In a far corner of space, on the very borders between humanity’s Polity worlds and the kingdom of the vicious crab-like prador, is an immediate threat to all sentient life: an accretion disc, a solar system designed by the long-dead Jain race and swarming with living technology powerful enough to destroy entire civilizations. Neither the Polity or the prador want the other in full control of the disc, so they’ve placed an impartial third party in charge of the weapons platform guarding the technology from escaping into the galaxy: Orlandine, a part-human, part-AI haiman. She’s assisted by Dragon, a mysterious, spaceship-sized alien entity who has long been suspicious of Jain technology and who suspects the disc is a trap lying-in-wait. Meanwhile, the android Angel is planning an attack on the Polity, and is searching for a terrible weapon to carry out his plans–a Jain super-soldier. But what exactly the super-soldier is, and what it could be used for if it fell into the wrong hands, will bring Angel and Orlandine’s missions to a head in a way that could forever change the balance of power in the Polity universe. In The Soldier , British science fiction writer Neal Asher kicks off another Polity-based trilogy in signature fashion, concocting a mind-melting plot filled with far-future technology, lethal weaponry, and bizarre alien creations.”
Picture of book cover for The SoldierFortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
First in the Paradox series.
From Library Journal: “Determined to join the ranks of the elite Devastators, ambitious mercenary Deviana “Devi” Morris applies for a job as a security guard aboard the Glorious Fool, an aging space freighter with an intergalactic reputation for danger. Successful service will launch Devi to the pinnacle of an already stellar career-if she doesn’t get herself killed in the process. However, not long after she signs on, Devi realizes her new captain and crew are not what they seem. Will she survive long enough to discover what’s really going on? VERDICT A fast-paced, action-packed sf series opener starring a tough and resourceful space-faring heroine.”
Picture of book cover for The Long Way To A Small Angry PlanetThe Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers 
First in the Wayfarers series.
“Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers a bed, a chance to explore the galaxy, and some distance from her past. The crew is diverse: Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot; chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, the captain. They are offered a job tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. It’s a lucrative job, but a host of unexpected mishaps force the crew to depend on each other.”
Picture of book cover for Leviathan WakesLeviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
First in the Expanse series.
“Corey (the shared pseudonym of Ty Franck and Hugo-nominated fantasist Daniel Abraham) kicks off a sprawling space opera series with this riveting interplanetary thriller. Relations among Earth, Mars, and the unincorporated “Belter” settlements of the asteroid belt and outer planets are rarely more than cordial. When ice hauler Jim Holden investigates an emergency beacon on a derelict Belter ship, he finds-and broadcasts-evidence that it was attacked by Mars forces. Burnt-out Ceres Station detective Joe Miller is puzzled by a drop in organized crime violence and an oddly compelling case involving a missing Earth heiress and a cutting-edge biochemistry company, Protogen. As interplanetary civil war heats up, egged on by the aggressive IRA-like Outer Planets Alliance, Holden and Miller fight and think their way through a sticky web of politics, corporate secrets, and a possible alien invasion. The strong characterization and excellent world-building will have readers jonesing for the planned sequels.”
Picture of book cover for The Last WatchThe Last Watch by J.S. Dewes
First in the Divide series.
From Booklist: “After two major interstellar wars with the Viator, from whom humanity gained the advanced technology to colonize planets and overthrow them, the System Collective established Sentinels at the very edge of the universe. The crews of these outposts are outcasts from the Legion, soldiers who failed the service in some way and were exiled to serve as the first line of alert in case the Viator somehow return. Their tale is told from two points of view. Adequinn Rake was a Titan, a hero among heroes of the final conflict, who betrayed her last mission’s objective and now commands the Argus, a decommissioned battleship serving outpost duty. Cavalon Mercer is the heir to the man who holds great power in the SC. He arrives in disgrace and just as the Argus faces a threat greater than any return of a Viator Fleet. He also happens to be indispensable to how Rake faces that threat, no matter his lack of military training. The Last Watch is a bravura debut that blends great action with compelling characters, lighting up this new series like a dark matter generator.”

Picture of book cover for Empress of ForeverEmpress of Forever by Max Gladstone

From Publisher’s Weekly: The first epic space opera from fantasist Gladstone (the Craft Sequence) incorporates wonder and wit to create a feminist, humanist playground of thought exercise. Viv Liao is a titan of industry, revered and feared in equal measure, and her enemies are coming for her, enraged by her acts of social consciousness. While making a last-ditch attempt to evade pursuit and save Earth from itself, she winds up in a Boston server farm from which she is transported on an Alice in Wonderland-esque trip through space. At once familiar and alien, this strange new setting terrifies Viv, but her powerful personality reasserts itself, and she’s soon in charge of a highly skilled, eclectic band of gods, monsters, and other strange beings who are pursuing their own agendas. All their stories revolve around the unofficial ruler of this universe, the Empress. Gladstone’s writing is delicate and precise, crafting a dense novel that introduces one mind-blowing concept after another, capitalizing on the concept of personal power while candidly addressing personal failure. This feast for the imagination intelligently captures the complexities of a variety of relationships in an adrenaline-fueled series of escapades and will leave readers both exhausted and elated.”

Picture of book cover for SalvationSalvation by Peter F Hamilton 
First in the Salvation Sequence series.
“Humanity’s complex relationship with technology spirals out of control in this first book of an all-new trilogy from “the owner of the most powerful imagination in science fiction” (Ken Follett). In 2204, humanity is expanding into the wider galaxy in leaps and bounds. Cutting-edge technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transportation–including starships–virtually obsolete. Every place on earth, every distant planet humankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. And all seems wonderful–until a crashed alien spaceship of unknown origin is found on a newly-located world eighty-nine light years from Earth, carrying a cargo as strange as it is horrifying. To assess the potential of the threat a high-powered team is dispatched to investigate. But one of them may not be all they seem. Bursting with tension and big ideas, this standalone series highlights the inventiveness of an author at the top of his game, as the interweaving story lines tell us not only how humanity arrived at this moment, but also the far-future consequences that spin off from it”
Picture of book cover for Ancillary JusticeAncillary Justice by Ann Leckie 
First in the Imperial Radch series
From Publishers Weekly Review: “An ill-fated encounter has forced Breq, the AI commanding the Radchaai troop carrier Justice of Toren, to take up residence in a single commandeered human body, impressive but mortal and no more powerful than any other person. Now this sorry wanderer searches the galaxy for a legendary weapon that may be able to do the impossible: grant Breq revenge on Anaander Mianaai, the many-bodied, immortal ruler of the brutal Radch. A double-threaded narrative proves seductive, drawing the reader into the naive but determined protagonist’s efforts to transform an unjust universe. Leckie uses familiar set pieces-an expansionist galaxy-spanning empire, a protagonist on a single-minded quest for justice-to transcend space-opera conventions in innovative ways. This impressive debut succeeds in making Breq a protagonist readers will invest in, and establishes Leckie as a talent to watch closely.”
Picture of book cover for The Three-Body ProblemThe Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
First in the Remembrance of of Earth’s Past series.
From Booklist: “This novel is a rare treat in several ways. First, it is translated from Chinese, a language from which the West doesn’t often get provocative science fiction. Beyond that, this highly deserving blockbuster in China serves as a crash course in both the historically important Cultural Revolution of the mid-twentieth century and the basics of astrophysics. The title itself refers to the complications of calculating gravity’s effects on multiple planetary objects, but in this case, the bodies are actually the Communist ideology of controlling humanity’s corruption, the individual’s will to kill for autonomy, and an approaching alien race seeking to make earth into a new home 40 years after the People’s Republic begins broadcasting signals to deep space at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The narrative will grab readers’ attention with its passionate and fascinating critique of early Communist China, augmented by translator Liu’s lean but informative footnotes for the likely uninformed English readers. But the high-minded premise is really just a vessel for a collection of surreal and hauntingly beautiful scenes that will hook you deep and drag you relentlessly across every page. This is a must-read in any language.”
Picture of book cover for A Memory of EmpireA Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine 
First in the Teixcalaan series
“During a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die. Now Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.”
Picture of book cover for The Bayern AgendaThe Bayern Agenda by Dan Moren 
First in the Galactic Cold War series
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Moren revisits the world and key characters from The Caledonian Gambit in the bombastic Galactic Cold War series launch, telling a frenzied story full of bold spycraft and exciting ground and air chases. Rumors are swirling that the planet-sized Bayern Corporation, usually known for strict political neutrality, is discussing a financial arrangement with the Illyrican Empire, a rival of the Commonwealth of Independent Systems. Though Commonwealth agent Simon Kovalic should lead his special projects team undercover to investigate, an injury leaves him home while his ex-wife, Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Taylor-whom the author unfortunately relegates to a femme fatale plot role-takes the team to Bayern. New team member Elijah Brody, a pilot and Illyrican defector, makes a clumsy first foray into covert operations, and soon Kovalic is needed on the ground after all, to resolve the chaos. In interspersed chapters, Kovalic privately reminisces about his early career. By the end, Moren solidifies the cooperative, interdependent social dynamics of Kovalic, Brody, and their team in a way that leaves readers ready to root for them, setting up for future adventures. Fans of suspenseful space opera will look eagerly for the next book.”
Picture of book cover for Velocity WeaponVelocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe 
First in the Protectorate series
From Booklist: “This ambitious space opera, set over 2000 years in the future, is the beginning of award-winning author O’Keefe’s Protectorate series. After being shot in battle, Sanda Greeve, a crack gunship sergeant, finds herself under the care of an enemy interstellar smartship, the Light of Berossus. Bero, as he likes to be called, has been alone in space a long time and develops quite a relationship with Sanda, with lively discussions on the meaning of intelligence and being. Her brother Biran, a newly anointed keeper of the Protectorate, vows to find his sister and discover the truth behind the attack. Full of twists, feints, and deception, O’Keefe’s latest presents a visionary world rife with political intrigue and space adventure. The short chapters and alternating points of view create strong pacing, the character interaction seamlessly moves from fluid battle scenes and sinister scheming to sarcastic and deeply funny dialogue. The inevitable convergence of disparate story lines will leave readers both satisfied by the ending and eagerly awaiting the next installment.”
Picture of book cover for BintiBinti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Collects the Binti trilogy.
“Binti, a young Himba girl with the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family’s concerns, Binti’s talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey. But everything changes when the jellyfish-like Medusae attack Binti’s spaceship, leaving her the only survivor. Now, Binti must fend for herself, alone on a ship full of the beings who murdered her crew, with five days until she reaches her destination. There is more to the history of the Medusae–and their war with the Khoush–than first meets the eye. If Binti is to survive this voyage and save the inhabitants of the unsuspecting planet that houses Oomza Uni, it will take all of her knowledge and talents to broker the peace. Collected now for the first time in omnibus form”
Picture of book cover for FinderFinder by Suzanne Palmer
First in the Finder Chronicles.
From Publisher’s Weekly”Fergus Ferguson, a professional repo man in a spacefaring future, chases a stolen spaceship to a backwater colony, incidentally becomes the catalyst for a civil war, and draws the attention of dangerous alien neighbors in Palmer’s riotous sci-fi debut. A chance meeting with an old woman in a cable car puts Fergus at odds with Gilger, the man whose ship he’s pursuing, but also allows him the opportunity to make helpful contacts in a family of lichen farmers and the arms dealer they share a habitat with. Humor deployed in the service of the plot, good dialogue, and evocative descriptions make up for a slight lack of depth in the characters as Fergus’s newfound allies evolve into friends and he gets an unexpected opportunity to save the colony and complete his mission. Palmer makes short-distance space travel feel as comfortable as riding a bicycle, and concludes this entertaining caper with a clever resolution and a hint of intrigue.”
Picture of book cover for Empire of SilenceEmpire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
First in the Sun Eater series.
From Booklist: “The centuries-long war against the alien Cielcin race raged in the far-flung future, millennia after the death of Old Earth. Hadrian Marlowe comes of age amidst his family’s wealth and privilege and looks ahead at the long life afforded his pedigree far from the front, as befits his role as the eldest son of a noble family. The course of his life takes an abrupt turn first from what he expected, and then from what his father demanded. As Marlowe treads a familiar and compelling path from privilege to poverty to power and on to political intrigue, he creates his own opportunities, with help from unexpected quarters, eventually finding himself at the center of an epic conflict spanning galaxies. But there is a wider, far-reaching mystery at play, and Ruocchio’s debut novel slowly reveals the first clues, told through the recollections of a man who would come to be both revered and reviled. Readers of the Dune and Game of Thrones series will find this first installment in a quartet a satisfying tale of conflict and redemption that promises much more in the three following volumes.”
Picture of book cover for The Collapsing EmpireThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi 
First in the Interdependency series.
From Booklist: “The Flow connects humanity living underground or in habitats across 47 star systems. Only End is habitable since Earth was lost a millennium ago. Political upheaval there will make it difficult for word to reach Hub of a discovery that would challenge a seasoned leader, much less the recently crowned Emperox Cardenia Wu-Patrick. Kiva Lagos needs to make the best of a bad situation when her cargo is quarantined by the machinations of a rival family. Jaimes Claremont has to get his findings from End to the emperox; with rebellion in full swing, accomplishing that will not be easy. Scalzi weaves these threads together with a clever metaphor for the interconnectedness of human society and how it breaks down with his well-known wit, whimsy, and ear for dialogue that is profane and laugh-out-loud funny. Fans of Game of Thrones and Dune will enjoy this bawdy, brutal, and brilliant political adventure in the shadow of a phenomenon that will change society forever, if not end it.”
Picture of book cover for HyperionHyperion by Dan Simmons
First in the Hyperion Cantos.
“A stunning tour de force filled with transcendent awe and wonder, Hyperion is a masterwork of science fiction that resonates with excitement and invention.
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the reach of galactic law, waits a creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.
On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope–and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.”
Picture of book cover for The Children of TimeThe Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
First in the Children of Time series.
From the publisher: “The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home. Following their ancestors’ star maps, they discovered the greatest treasure of a past age–a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course and must fight to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?”
Picture of book cover for There Before the ChaosThere Before the Chaos by Adrian Tchaikovsky
First in The Farian War series.
From Booklist: “After defeating her nemesis and brokering a tenuous peace with the Saxons, gunrunner-turned-empress-of-Indrana Hail Bristol turned her attention to rebuilding her battered empire. But Hail’s life has never been particularly quiet, and it’s not long before she finds herself embroiled in a conflict between two alien civilizations, the Shen and the Farians. As Hail and her team try to figure out why she’s being asked to prevent a war with ancient origins, it becomes clear that humanity has been deliberately drawn into the crossfire. Wagers brings back her large cast of characters from the Indranan War trilogy (beginning with Behind the Throne , 2016) and adds several more to Hail’s extended family of BodyGuards, politicians, spies, and former outlaws. Although she has fully accepted her role as empress, Hail spends the majority of the book intimidating people, battling her fear of enclosed spaces, and chasing down leads before the inevitable conflict erupts, sending her headlong into the promised chaos. This series launch provides an exciting dose of space opera and political intrigue peppered with hard choices. Highly recommended for fans of science fiction with assertive female characters.”
Picture of book cover for The Stars Now UnclaimedThe Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams
First in The Universe After series.
From Booklist: “*Starred Review* A dazzling debut blends the best of small- and large- screen sf: the strong characterizations of Firefly, the space battles of The Expanse, and a tip of the motion scanner to Aliens. Jane Kamali rescues gifted teens from worlds devastated by the pulse, which passes through the universe in a wave, moving each world’s technological advances varying steps backward. Unfortunately, one of the worlds less affected by the pulse is the Pax, whose inhabitants live by the simple, brutal ideology of survival of the fittest. Just as Jane picks up 14-year-old Esa, with the begrudging help of the Preacher, a member of the machine-based Barious species, a massive force from the Pax attacks. Jane and company manage a desperate escape in Scheherazade, her delightfully snarky spacecraft. From there it is a race to Sanctum, where Jane is supposed to deliver Esa. Along the way, they encounter pirates, smugglers, soldiers, spies, and exploding spaceships in ever-increasing size and number. This cast of memorable characters, particularly Jane, who wears her heart on her sleeve, and the sacrifices they make to save the universe is not to be missed.”

Except as noted, annotations are supplied from the SELCO catalog