Looking to read space opera books? You’re in for a treat!
What’s so special about the space opera genre? How does it differ from regular science fiction? Well, it’s not a new subgenre by any means—space opera has been around since the 1930s—but it’s a popular one, with new novels still coming out every year.
Space opera often involves epic space battles, massive galactic stakes, and an outer space setting. It’s much more melodramatic than hard science fiction, yet entertaining all the same.
Here are some of the best space opera books worth reading, whether you’re new to the subgenre or growing fan!
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is, by the author’s own admission, influenced by Robert Heinlein’s novels, particularly Starship Troopers, though Old Man’s War is a lot more fun.
Following geriatric characters who enter military service to get off Earth and regain their youth, this book’s take on space opera both pays homage to and lightly pokes fun at classic space opera.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is massively imaginative, big-picture space opera set so far in our own future that it’s barely recognizable.
The plot skips back and forth through time, weaving narrative threads until they form the cloth of the novel, but this is still very much space opera in the classic sense, and in the best way.
Alastair Reynolds is one of the more prolific authors in science fiction, and while not everything he writes is space opera, the vast majority of it is.
While some critics have referred to Revenger as young adult, Reynolds himself calls it “a straightforward SF novel that also happens to be accessible, and perhaps accessible to somewhat younger readers.”
If you like space pirates and Firefly, you’ll love Revenger.
Before you read Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star, you need to be aware that it’s really only the first half of a mega-long book.
They’re both worth reading, as the two novels combined feature a truly alien species, wormhole-traveling space trains, and memory crystals that essentially mean immortality. Yeah, there’s a lot here.
Murderbot. That’s the name that the main character of Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries has given themselves because, well, that’s what they’re meant to be.
All Systems Red is a novella—a rather short one—about a robot who wants to get their job done so they can get back to watching their favorite shows. The good news is that there are plenty more in the series after you’ve finished the first.
This first novel in the Expanse universe by James S.A. Corey (a.k.a. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) will be familiar to fans of the TV series, but the events and the order in which they unfold are slightly different in the novel series.
Even if you’ve already watched every episode of the TV series, this book (and its sequels) are all worth reading again!
Bringing a little humor into science fiction is never a bad thing, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better at it than Douglas Adams.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a radio play before it was a novel, but the book and its sequels are now considered the definitive way to see the universe through Adams’s eyes.
You may be familiar with Skyward series’ author Brandon Sanderson from our roundup of super-long fantasy series worth reading, but he doesn’t only write fantasy.
Yeah, a lot of fans are surprised to learn that Sanderson also writes science fiction from time to time. Skyward, like Sanderson’s The Reckoners series, is classified as young adult but don’t let that stop you from reading it. It’s really good.
This is the first book in Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series, though there is a noticeable lack of war throughout most of the novel—at least any war that Kylara Vatta herself engages in.
Instead, she’s trapped in the middle and stuck making tough decisions in order to protect herself, her crew, and her cargo. Later books in the series raise the stakes considerably.
10. Ninefox Gambit
Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series straddles the line between space opera and military science fiction, blending the two with a little science fantasy in the process.
Main character Kel Cheris has to share her consciousness with that of Shuos Jedao, a traitor with information too valuable to let go, but is too dangerous to be left to his own devices.
11. Revelation Space
Yes, Alastair Reynolds is on this list twice, because as good as Revenger and its sequels are, the Revelation Space universe is also one that every sci-fi fan needs to experience.
While it’s possible to read this as a standalone novel, chances are good that you’ll end up wanting to read everything else in the series after the book ends. It’s that good!
Keep Going With Classic Sci-Fi
With the exception of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, most of these books are relatively recent, at least as far as books are concerned.
That’s great if you want to stay caught up with what’s happening in modern science fiction, but not if you want to go back to the classics of sci-fi!