Well, we did it, folks. Together with votes on this blog and on the Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group you nominated, discussed, and voted for the top Space Opera books (or series). This poll had some heated debate over on the Facebook group about what books should count as Space Opera!
Now, ordered from 10th to the very top Space Opera book, we present the top 10 selections for the best Space Opera books and series of all time.
Click on the links to check out the books featuring these favorites to add to your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).
Want to see who didn’t make the cut? Click here to view the original poll that inspired this list.
10. Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
The title of this series comes from the first two books, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. It now refers to the 4 book series, and some short stories. Several of the books have won awards, including the Hugo, Locus, and British Science Fiction Association Awards, and the series has been nominated for various science fiction awards.
The story arc of the series at first follows the stories of travelers on a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs on Hyperion to a creature called Shrike. Some worship it, some want to destroy it. It is Armageddon, and the entire galaxy is at war.
The first two books are influenced by The Canterbury Tales and the poetry of John Keats (in the form of dreams of John Keats), respectively. Later, in the third and then fourth book, the story jumps forward in time and deals more focusedly on a few characters as they encounter various futuristic religious complications.
Click here to find Hyperion on Amazon.
9. Old Mans War by John Scalzi
Old Man’s War is a six-book, military space opera series and an extra short fiction. Each book is set in the same world, but follows a different main character.
It starts with John Perry, a 75-year old whose wife has just passed and he has become a volunteer recruit for the Colonial Defense Forces who protect human interplanetary colonists. He joins other retirees who all obtain souped-up bio-tech younger bodies to fight the war. The story follows Perry’s tale from recruit through battles and challenges to his eventual promotion as captain.
Although each book is unique, the world-building links the tales together and is really phenomenal at developing a vivid world out there.
8. The Culture Series by Iain M. Banks
The Culture series gets its name from an extremely advanced, post-scarcity society called The Culture comprised of various humanoid races and AIs. There is little need for laws or enforcement since there are no dramatic needs such as food, or work. The members live in spaceships and other off-planet constructs. However, The Culture is just one of several “Involved” civilizations that take an active part in galactic affairs. And the differences between these civilizations has landed them in inter-galactic warfare.
The first book in the series, Consider Phlebas introduces readers to the utopian conglomeration of human and alien races that explores the nature of war, morality, and the limitless bounds of mankind’s imagination. The book follows the story of a shapechanging agent of the Iridans during the Culture-Iridan war, who undertakes a clandestine mission to a forbidden planet in search of an intelligent, fugitive machine whose actions could alter the course of the conflict.
7. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vorkosigan Saga is a series of 30-publications and counting, including novels and a few shorter stories. While it is a series, each book is written intended to be a stand-alone piece, so a reader could theoretically jump in anywhere. Works in the series have received numerous awards and nominations, including five Hugo award wins including one for Best Series. The order of recommended reading is a bit up for debate since the chronology of publication does not follow the internal chronology of the Vorkosigan world. The author recommends reading the books in order of the internal chronology. So that’s probably the best place to start!
The stories feature different planetary systems in the “Vorkosiverse,” a galaxy colonized by humans. The stories feature several planetary systems, each with its own political organization, including government by corporate democracy, rule by criminal corporations, monarchies, empires and direct democracies. The main character viewpoints include a diverse set of characters including several women, a gay man, a pair of brothers, one of whom is physically handicapped and the other a clone, and others.
According to the internal chronology, the first book is Falling Free. It has about four to five character points of view, but mainly follows Leo, a teaching engineer, and his students, the Quaddies (who have an extra set of arms instead of legs), a genetically modified species of humans designed to function in zero gravity environments. The students are not treated as full humans, and have been raised as such. When the company that owns the Quaddies abandons them, Leo has to decide how, and whether to, save them.
6. The Expanse series, by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse is a series of (so far…) eight science fiction novels (and related novellas and short stories) by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The first novel, Leviathan Wakes, was nominated for a Hugo Award and Locus Award and the series as a whole was nominated for the Best Series Hugo Award in 2017.
Leviathan Wakes introduces Captain James Holden, his crew, and Detective Miller. When they are confronted with a case of a single missing girl they realize it leads to a solar-system-wide conspiracy. With fantastic character development and truly Space Opera-tic levels of adventure, it seems almost cinematic. And indeed, the book was turned into an Amazon Prime Original series!
5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game is the first book in a quartet, but can definitely be read as a stand-alone book. It actually originated as a short story by the same name, in 1977, and became a book in 1985, updated again in 1991 to reflect contemporary political events. It has won the Hugo and Nebula awards and has been developed into a somewhat controversial film, as well as into two comic book series.
The first book, Ender’s Game, follows the story of a boy, Ender, who is selected to go up into space for a the training program, Battle School. He, and other boys, are put through a variety of technically challenging “games” during which Ender’s prowess as an analyzing and creative leader is revealed. Battle School prepares them to fight the war against the “Buggers,” an undergoing war which they might be close to losing…
4. Lensman series by E.E. “Doc” Smith
The Lensman series, written by Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith, is a six-book series (plus sequel) that was a runner-up for the 1966 Hugo award for Best All-Time Series.
E.E. “Doc” Smith is sometimes referred to as “the father of space opera” because of this series. It is a truly remarkable world-building saga. It opens with the book Tripleplanetary in which a inhabitants of the planet Nevia descend on earth to loot it of iron. After destroying the city of Pittsburgh the Nevians head home with with three human specimens in its hold. Among them is Conway Costigan, an undercover intelligence operative for the Triplanetary Patrol. From deep within the bowels of the enemy ship, Costigan must do the impossible: find a way to defeat the Nevians before every man, woman, and child on Earth is annihilated.
3. Dune by Frank Herbert
The Hugo and Nebula award-winning book Dune is the first of many Dune books (you can find the full list and order here). It started in 1965, and after the original author, Frank Herbert, died in in 1986, his son, Brian Herbert, and science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson published a number of prequel novels, as well as two which complete the original Dune series. It has been adapted to film and TV multiple times, and is currently under development as a film by Warner Bros. which will be released in November 2020.
In the first novel, Dune, noble families of the distant future control fiefs of an inhopsitable planet, Arrakis, covered in sand dunes. A drug called “spice melange” is the only substance of value and is coveted across the universe. Through sabotage and treachery some nobles cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet’s harsh environment to die. He doesn’t die, however, and grows up with a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what’s rightfully his. As he grows up, he realizes he has unique powers, and appears to be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human. He might even be a messiah…
2. Blood on the Stars series by Jay Allan
The most recent Blood on the Stars book, The Colossus, was just released in April 2019, and the next one, The Others is coming out this month!
One of the best things about this series is that the cast of characters is so well developed that even some of the “bad guys” are characters you want to root for. The series opens with Duel in the Dark which introduces the leaders of opposing captains of space battleships. It is a heavy, gritty, emotional read. When the exhausted crew of the Confederation battleship Dauntless are sent to the Far Rim as the sole assistance to a distress call out there, captain Barron knows it is his sole responsibility to stop the attack at the disputed border and to win victory to prove his worth as the lineage of a family of heroes.
1. Honor Harrington series by David Weber
And the number one, all time best space opera as selected by DiscoverSciFi readers is the Honor Harrington series! Otherwise known as The Honorverse, most of the more than 20 novels and anthology collections cover events between 4000 and 4022 AD. Much of the series’ political drama follows that of Europe’s political scene from the 1500’s to 2000’s.
The first book, On Basilisk Station, follows Commander Honor Harrington and Her Majesty’s light cruiser Fearless during their assignment to the Basilisk system. Actually, Honor Harrington has been essentially exiled to the Basilisk, her crew is annoyed with her, and her ship is aged and can hardly be expected to police an entire star system. As much as the Basilisk system was supposed to be a less-than-interesting punishment assignment, it turns out to be a bit of a linch pin in a the aggressive plans of the Haven Republic. And the only one in position to stop them is Honor Harrington and her crew.
The space opera genre is full of great, mainly military series, and not everyone agrees on what exactly fits into the category. What do you think? Did you agree with all of the books chosen on this list? Join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you’re there. Don’t have Facebook? You can share your views in the comments below.
*Some book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.