The Sword and Laser discussion

77 views
Recommendations for space operas

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Viola (new)

Viola | 185 comments So apparently if you want to write in a genre to have to read the genre so therefore, I’m looking for recommendations of good space operas similar to Dune and the original Star Wars. It’s a plus if they contain a romance and/or bromance, but not necessary.

I’m not looking for books like Ancillary Justice and Ninefox Gambit those books just weren’t my cup of tea.


message 2: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8310 comments Well, first of all, there’s an entire Goodreads group dedicated specifically to Space Opera, so there are lots of excellent recommendations and resources there: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

Secondly, some definitions:

Dune is not a Space Opera, it is a Planetary Romance. (“Romance” in this instance refers to the old-fashioned definition meaning “adventure” rather than the modern usage of interpersonal relationships to do with dating and mating. A direct analogy: the primary definition of “gay” has shifted from “happy” to “homosexual”.)

Ancillary Justice likewise is not Space Opera. It’s actually straight Science Fiction with a focus in the subgenre known as “Novel of Manners.” That subgenre includes works by Jane Austen, Honore de Balzac and Edith Wharton. Ancillary Justice is more closely related to The Age of Innocence than Star Trek.

Star Wars and Ninefox Gambit *are* Space Opera. Some of the key elements are the epic storylines, lots of action with plenty of derring do, and, most obviously, is set primarily in outer space, or at least has significant aspects set there. Ship to ship action, that sort of thing.

So, all of that said, I would recommend:

The Mageworlds series by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, which is basically Star Wars with the serial numbers scratched off. The first one is The Price of the Stars.

Some, but not all, of the Vorkosigan saga books by Louis McMaster Bujold fit. The Warrior's Apprentice is decidedly so. You don’t need to read the other books in the series to understand what’s happening.

A more recent entry is last year’s Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe. Space action aplenty.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi is both Space Opera and Military Sci-Fi, which is a common overlap. There are 3 or 4 more books in the series if you like this one.

Ian Banks’ novels about the Culture are usually Space Opera. They’re mostly all standalones, so grab one and go.

I haven’t read them but lots of people praise the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. He has stated these are intended as “Horatio Hornblower in space” which is pretty close to a succinct definition of the genre.

The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey is also a good one, but like Vorkosigan it also mixes in Planetary Romance in some books, with lots of MilSF elements. First one is Leviathan Wakes.

An older one is Sovereign by R.M. Meluch. (The R stands for Rebecca.) It’s from 1979 and features a gay main character, so lots of stuff going on there that’s different from the usual.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor is Space Opera that is not MilSF, and it stands out for other reasons.


message 3: by Viola (new)

Viola | 185 comments Trike wrote: "Well, first of all, there’s an entire Goodreads group dedicated specifically to Space Opera, so there are lots of excellent recommendations and resources there: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show..."

These might be stupid questions but I'm going to ask anyway; is space opera an umbrella term? Does planetary romance fall into the category of space opera? Is Star Trek a space opera?


message 4: by Trike (last edited Jan 25, 2020 10:34AM) (new)

Trike | 8310 comments Viola wrote: "These might be stupid questions but I'm going to ask anyway; is space opera an umbrella term? Does planetary romance fall into the category of space opera? Is Star Trek a space opera?"

Those are not dumb questions at all. It can be a thorny problem trying to untangle the various subgenres, especially in the early days of their existence.

The easiest question first: yes, Star Trek is Space Opera. Individual episodes, movies, books and comics might be properly slotted into a different subgenre, but overall the franchise as a whole is SO. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is pure Space Opera. The episode “Shore Leave” (TOS) is pure Planetary Romance, while “The Measure of a Man” (TNG) is Science Fiction-Procedural. But mostly, yeah, Space Opera.

As for the trickier questions...

Every genre was named after it was already in existence, usually for decades, sometimes longer. So examples of proto-Space Opera and proto-Planetary Romance were around for quite some time, and actual genre-defining works were seen as such after the fact.

If I were to wager money, I’d say Planetary Romance came into focus earlier than Space Opera. That’s mostly because the latter assumes that space flight is a given, with no real explantation necessary. Much of early spaceflight fiction concerned the hows and whys of rocketry, rather than treating it as something that simply exists the way seagoing boats do. As an analogy, you can’t have movies like Pirates of the Caribbean or novels like The Far Side of the World without an existing infrastructure of navies and mass-produced ships. The story of Noah’s Ark is like a proto-seafaring story the same way From the Earth to the Moon is proto-Space Opera, as it concerns the creation of the craft rather than its mere existence.

These days PR usually relies on spaceships to get protagonists to their adventures on alien planets, but back in the day a character could just wake up on an alien world, like John Carter does in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels.

But like Star Trek, the Venn diagram of SO and PR overlaps, hence the confusion. Movies like Return of the Jedi are nearly equal parts SO and PR. There are the adventures in outer space with lots of ship-to-ship action, but there is also the exploration of cultures on specific planets, namely Jabba’s palace on Tatooine and the Ewoks’ civilization on Endor. Similarly, The Last Jedi has a fairly equal balance of space-based and planet-based adventures.

On the other side of the equation there are movies such as Avatar, which is pure old-fashioned PR. The Chronicles of Riddick is likewise PR.

So neither SO nor PR have ascendancy over the other, but because they are so closely related and many works often feature aspects of both, it’s easy to confuse the two.

The good news is that there aren’t any genre police, so there’s no way to really screw that up. Lots of people call Dune and Ancillary Justice Space Operas, but that’s usually just ignorance of the subgenres at work. I just happen to be a stickler for it because genre definitions was going to be my PhD focus when I was in college, and I’ve sort of kept my hand in it in the ensuing decades.

Edit: typos.


message 5: by Eva (last edited Jan 24, 2020 08:22PM) (new)

Eva Yes, Space Opera is a subgenre of science fiction that (today) generally means that the story takes place on starships/other planets, generally has some adventure, is not very focused on military details (that would be Military SF) and usually doesn't have to be 100% scientifically accurate (that would be Hard SF). All of the above apply to Star Trek, and both Star Trek and Star Wars are space operas.

In the 50s-70s, the term used to be more limited and had connotations of "unrealistic pulp adventure", but today the definition is much broader. As Trike mentioned above, many people exclude novels that take place mostly on one single planet from this sub-genre (others don't and would count anything not taking place on Earth and not being either Mil SF or Hard SF, e.g. most people do count Dune as Space Opera). There is no official boundary, it's more of a loose descriptive term with soft edges and a lot of overlap.

The term planetary romance as a subgenre was used a lot in the 80s but I haven't seen it used much recently and those books are usually grouped under Space Opera, as well. But if you do differentiate this as a separate genre, then obviously you'd have a clear boundary depending on how much the plot takes place on a planet/off-planet.


message 6: by Tamahome (last edited Jan 24, 2020 09:24PM) (new)

Tamahome | 6196 comments Peter F. Hamilton, Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained. Classic alien. But it's long. 77 hours in audio.


message 7: by Eva (new)

Eva If your goal is to get a good feeling for a particular genre and its best authors, I actually wouldn't recommend reading one or two super long novels - space opera is pretty vast and varied and starting a huge tome only to realize that the author is not to your taste really sucks.

So what I'd recommend is to start with short story anthologies in the genre. Then take your favorite stories and see if their authors have also written space opera novels you could check out. That's really the easiest way to get a feel for a whole genre.

Good anthologies to try:
The New Space Opera
The New Space Opera 2
Infinite Stars (also includes some Mil SF)
And when you're done with those:
The Big Book of Science Fiction (contains various SF, but by then you'll be able to tell which is which)

Hope that helps!


message 8: by William (new)

William | 404 comments While I'm itching to join in the scholarly nit-picking about subgenres (I have opinions ;-) ) I'm guessing you just want "adventures with spaceships preferably with romance"... so here are a few:

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray (involves well written romance imho)

The Lost King by Margaret Weis (very Star Wars-ish)

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder: Very interesting take on cryogenics and space travel.

Hera 2781: A Military Short Story by Janet Edwards: A seriously well written short story with a dose of well written "bromance".

I'm sure I'll think of a few more when I hit post, but I'll be interested to see which books others recommend.


message 9: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 489 comments Some good recs already ( I personally will be seeking out those The New Space Opera anthologies, thanks! ) but my pointers would be:

Iain M. Banks
Alastair Reynolds
Neal Asher
Some of Charles Stross' work, but he writes across the SF spectrum
A slight majority of Ken MacLeod, he mixes it it


message 10: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3914 comments Some pretty good recommendations above. I would quibble with definitions, but am not sure it would be useful. For instance, I'd say Star Wars is space opera as it has, well, the operatic grandiosity, but Star Trek isn't as it is usually smaller and contained. But if it's important to someone to include Star Trek, fine with me. It's in space and usually an adventure.

Among the many fine offerings above, I want to mention Bester's The Stars My Destination. A seminal book that influenced many SF authors.


back to top