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 ( )
Last updated 8/28/2023
|The Soldier by Neal Asher
First in the Rise of the Jain series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “Asher (Infinity Engine) begins his new series set in the Polity universe with this adrenaline-charged work that brings the threat of the civilization-destroying Jain to the fore. Asher demonstrates his skill at creating alien actors with a cast of characters that does not include a single unaltered human. The action in this volume centers on the accretion disk of an exploded star that is littered with dormant Jain tech. The human-AI amalgam Orlandine is sent to protect against any threats from the disk, while the AI-controlled human Polity and the king-dom of the crablike prador, who were once at odds, wait warily to see what happens there. Partnered with Orlandine is Dragon, a moon-size alien artifact with inscrutable motives and a fierce hatred of the Jain. When the Client, the last remnant of her species, is revived, she takes control of one of the many weapons platforms guarding the disk and disappears on her own mission. Once a Jain soldier unit is activated, all these entities and more join in combat, starting with hand-to-pseudopod fights and escalating to titanic battles that rend space. With mind-blowing complexity, characters, and combat, Asher’s work continues to combine the best of advanced cybertech and military SF.”
|The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham
First in The Cruel Stars trilogy.
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “Birmingham’s gripping near-future novel launches readers into a genocidal interstellar war amid sudden violence and dark humor. A long-exiled radical human group bent on killing any “impure” humans with genetic or mechanical modifications has executed a massive strike against the rest of human culture’s defenses and elites. Standing in its way are one military ship with a new captain, a band of pirates, a bodiless criminal, a 12-year-old princess, and a legend. Birmingham alternates between gut punches and laugh-out-loud humor, with some gore and thought-provoking philosophy thrown in for good measure. Every character is a presence, including the villains, who are disturbingly convincing in believing their actions are for the good of all. Plenty of twists, sharp turns, and fateful encounters will keep readers guessing and turning pages. This jarring, engrossing story of a species-wide fight for survival is recommended for all science fiction readers.”
|The 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.”
|Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
First in the Expanse series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “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.”
|The 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.”
|Salvation 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”
The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt
From Library Journal: *Starred Review* “This is a unique blend of space opera and horror, complete with nerve-wracking claustrophobia and insights into the ethics of experimentation. Sean Wren is a refugee who lost his homeland due to the conflict between the Ministers and the Republic. He’s forcibly sent off to an abandoned and broken-down spaceship that is packed with monsters, enemies, and secrets while it idles next to a dying star that’s about to blow. As a talented linguist who knows the dead language Ameng, his mission is to recover mysterious scientific data. To navigate this labyrinthine ship of horrors, the impish and lovable Sean has no choice but to team up with his enemies, specifically the stony and deadly Minister Indigo and the ruthless and determined Republican Lieutenant Lantern-Eyes. Hunt’s perfect balance of humor, viciousness, and soul-searching results in an emotional rollercoaster of a novel, where laugh-out-loud comedy competes with heartbreaking tragedy. VERDICT Hunt’s debut is fun, fast-paced, cutting-edge, and full of epic twists, with a highly accessible writing style. Fans of Andy Weir and Martha Wells will love it.”
|Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
First in the Imperial Radch series
From Library Journal: *Starred Review* “Years ago, a soldier called Breq was one part of the starship Justice of Toren, whose artificial intelligence (AI) expressed itself in thousands of corpse soldiers serving the empire of the Radch. Now an act of treachery has left Breq with a single fragile human body and an unquenchable desire for revenge against the Lord of the Radch, a multibodied intelligence known as Anaander Mianaai. Leckie’s debut constructs a far-future world with a heroine who, despite her apparent lack of individuality, nevertheless grows increasingly human as her search for justice takes her into close contact withboth allies and enemies. Using the format of sf military adventure blended with hints of space opera, Leckie explores the expanded meaning of human nature and the uneasy balance between individuality and membership in a group identity. VERDICT Leckie is a newcomer to watch as she expands on the history and future of her new and exciting universe.”
|The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
First in the Remembrance of of Earth’s Past series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “Fans of hard SF will revel in this intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title. Liu impressively succeeds in integrating complex topics—such as the field of frontier science, which attempts to define the limits of science’s ability to know nature—without slowing down the action or sacrificing characterization. His smooth handling of the disparate plot elements cleverly sets up the second volume of the trilogy.”
|A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
First in the Teixcalaan series
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “Debut novelist Martine sets a careful course in this gorgeously crafted diplomatic space opera that strands its protagonist amid imperial politics and murder. Mahit Dzmare, summoned from tiny Lsel Station to replace the previous ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire, Yskandr, must negotiate both for Yskandr’s corpse and for the safety of her home world, an object of Imperial annexation. Her fluency in Teixcalaanli language and culture (“for a barbarian”) helps her decode the messages hidden in their poetry, even as it inclines her to the same starry-eyed admiration and involvement with the Imperial court that overcame her predecessor. Her secret implant of Yskandr’s memories should be aiding her, but it is 15 years out of date and, apparently, sabotaged. Mahit instead relies on her need to establish an identity of her own while juggling an aging Emperor’s desire for technological immortality and a threatened military uprising to his rule. The Teixcalaanli culture comes so fully to life that the glossary in the back of the book is unnecessary. Martine allows the backstory to unroll slowly, much as Mahit struggles with her intermittent memories, walking delicately upon the tightrope of intrigue and partisan battles in the streets to safely bring the tale to a poignantly true conclusion. Readers will eagerly await the planned sequels to this impressive debut.”
|The 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.”
|Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
First in the Locked Tomb series.
From Booklist: *Starred Review* “In a universe ruled by an undying emperor, nine houses struggle for power through their necromantic rulers. The crumbling Ninth House, that of the Keepers of the Locked Tomb, is home to Gideon: swordswoman, malcontent, loveless lesbian. Gideon has spent most of her life attempting to escape the drudgery of the Ninth and its creepy nuns, oppressive darkness, and vicious heir, Harrowhark. But Harrow has been invited to enter a competition among the houses for the honor of being selected Lyctor, and Gideon finally has an opportunity to escape the Ninth—as long as she agrees to serve as Harrow’s cavalier and bodyguard. When members of other houses start dying mysteriously after the competitors have been stranded together in the haunted and moldering First House, it’s up to Gideon and Harrow—uneasy allies at best—to figure out who to trust and how to survive the deadly game. Muir’s debut fuses science fiction, mystery, horror, fantasy, action, adventure, political intrigue, deadly dark humor, and a dash of romance with a healthy serving of skeletons and secrets and the spirit of queer joy. This extraordinary opening salvo will leave readers dying to know what happens next.”
|The Blighted Stars by Megan O’Keefe
First in the Protectorate series
From Library Journal: *Starred Review* “The Mercator family is a universal business empire, not only controlling much of humanity’s exploration and settling, but collecting vital resources for their own enrichment. Heir apparent Tarquin Mercator is not a businessman: he would rather focus on books and geology than financial domination. However, the habitable planets are collapsing, and Tarquin is tasked with overseeing the settlement of the next cradle world. Many feel that the Mercators and other powerful corporate families are at fault, and revolution is simmering below the surface. Naira Sharp has intimate knowledge of the Mercators, and she plans to take out the settlement ship before it destroys humanity’s next hope. But a series of events leads to the ship survivors being stranded on the planet’s surface, and what Tarquin and Naira discover will not only shake their own understandings of the truth but lead them to a plot that is devastating. Emotional arcs and action sequences, vivid worldbuilding, and interesting explorations of body printing and corporate servitude provide an immersive story. VERDICT O’Keefe’s (Catalyst Gate) latest has the intrigue, surprises, and high stakes of her previous novels. –Kristi Chadwick (Reviewed 11/01/2022) (Library Journal, vol 147, issue 11, p93) “
|Finder 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.”
|Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
First in the Sun Eater series.
From Library Journal: *Starred Review* “Newcomer Ruocchio kicks off his “Sun Eater” series with a work that is controlled and accomplished. Narrator Hadrian Marlowe is revered as a hero who destroyed the alien Cielcin and despised as a murderer for his role in the destruction of a sun that cost four billion lives, including that of the emperor. Yet he is neither but also both of those things. Hadrian is the son of a powerful palatine lord, and as the oldest, he’s always assumed he was the heir. But his father has other plans. He decides instead to send Hadrian to the Chantry, the religious order that maintains strict controls against technological heresy, a fate Hadrian dreads. Hadrian’s attempt to escape his destiny sets him on a course that will alter the universe. In this first of a projected ongoing series, the seeds of Hadrian’s future are skillfully set. VERDICT The author, an assistant editor at Baen Books, pens an engrossing read that confidently blends action and political intrigue. Although stretched across a vast array of planets, the story line is often more focused on the intimate than on the expanse, giving it a wonderful emotional punch. This wow book is a must for fans of Pierce Brown and Patrick Rothfuss.”
|The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
First in the Interdependency series.
From Library Journal: *Starred Review* “Humanity has left Earth behind and headed across the universe, with spaceships riding the Flow, an extradimensional field that allows vessels to travel immense distances in weeks or months. The Holy Empire of Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds, or the Interdependency for short, allows far-flung outposts to trade and exist successfully in this almost inexplicable time-space web. But now the entire Flow is changing, separating worlds from one another and threatening to destroy the Interdependency. Three people unite to try to save the Empire as they know it. But others see an opportunity for transferring the power to themselves. VERDICT Scalzi (Lock In) mixes science, history, and politics with sharp action and intriguing characters. Readers will be thrilled to take another wild ride across the universe with the author of the “Old Man’s War” series.”
|Hyperion 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.”
|Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky
First in the Final Architecture series.
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “Tchaikovsky (Children of Time) launches his Final Architecture series with a dazzlingly suspenseful space opera. A colossal, sentient entity known as an Architect rips Earth apart into a flower shape. As the remnants of humanity flee to colonize other planets, Idris Telemmier is genetically manipulated into an Intermediary supersoldier, capable of reaching his mind out to the Architects. His encounter with the Architects causes them to realize humans are sentient, after which they abruptly vanish. Nearly a century later, Idris, who has not slept or aged since, joins the tight-knit crew of salvage ship Vulture God, craving anonymity among their ranks. After the crew comes across a derelict ship torn into a familiar flower shape, signaling the possibility that the Architects have returned, the discovery creates political opportunity for various factions: the alien Essiel, who protect the worlds under their control; Earth’s Council of Human Interests; the alien-hating human Nativists; and the women warriors known as the Parthenon. Now Partheni Solace joins Idris’s crew to search the colonized worlds for hints to the Architects’ motives. But Solace’s true mission is to convince Idris to share the Intermediary technology with the Parthenon. Tchaikovsky’s intricately constructed world is vast yet sturdy enough to cradle inventive science, unique aliens, and complex political machinations. With a mix of lively fight scenes, friendly banter, and high-stakes intrigue, this is space opera at its best.”
|Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
From Publisher’s Weekly: *Starred Review* “World Fantasy Award winner Tesh (the Greenhollow duology of novellas) jumps from quiet fantasy to ambitious sci-fi in her raw and action-packed full-length debut. Raised on Gaea Station with the last of humanity, Valkyr has been indoctrinated from childhood into intense hatred of the majoda—the alien race that destroyed Earth—and thirsts for vengeance. When Kyr comes of age, however, she’s disappointed to be assigned to Nursery rather than combat, her body designated to breed future supersoldiers. Meanwhile, Kyr’s brother, Magnus, is assigned off-station to certain death. Kyr takes justice for humanity into her own hands to save Magnus—but once she’s away from Gaea Station, the principles she’s been fed her whole life are called into question. Tesh’s sweeping epic wrestles with the nature of hatred, vengeance, and radicalization. The political theme of breaking away from fascist ideology pairs beautifully with smart sci-fi worldbuilding—which encompasses shadow engine technology and time slips—and queer coming of age. This riveting adventure deserves a space on shelves alongside genre titans like Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler.”
|The 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