C.T. Phipps

The Space Opera, Military Sci-Fi, and Interstellar Sci Fi thread

65 posts in this topic

So, I'm in a space opera sort of mood for this month.

What would be your favorites to recommend and why? From the classics like Dune to anything independent.

I'm thinking of starting with Larry Niven's "Ringworld"

 

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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Dune isn't really a space opera, at least not the first one, even though it takes place in a space opera-ish world.


Anyway, my favourites:

Ian M Banks, Culture series. Not typical of the genre, being a little less focused on space battles and things (though they exist) and more on complex puzzle-plots and character maneuvering, but it's the best SF series around in my mind.

Alastair Reynolds, Revelation Space. That fairly rare case of a hard-SF space opera,but contains high adventure too. The atmosphere's out of this world.

Stephen Baxter, Xeelee Sequence. The other hard-SF space opera (although, admittedly, the first book in it isn't especially obviously Space Opera). There probably doesn't exist a series that is bigger than this in scope and scale, it is absolutely bonkers. If you do read it, make sure you read the short story collections too, especially Vaccuum Diagrams.

A Fire Upon the Deep/A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge. The second in particular is a masterclass of tension and plotting and scullduggery, though the first is a cracking read too.
 

 

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I totally agree on Vernor Vinge - those books are really outstanding.

I also recommend:

Walter Jon Williams' Dread Empire's Fall for some nifty economic / military / political plot lines, as well as a pair of fairly realistic and well-written protagonists who are grey characters.

Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy has it all - transformative, post-human technology, multiple human settlements across the galaxy, a scientific return from the dead of many human souls, etc.  I also recommend his stand-alone work, Fallen Dragon, which I think of as a primer to all his other work.

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The Killing Star by Charles Pelligrino and George Zebroski 

The Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook 

 

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If you enjoyed the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold, you might also consider trying either of Elizabeth Moon's series of military / economic space opera.  They feature strong, well-written female protagonists, space battles, warring economic systems and hegemonies, and some light romance.

Politics, inherited titles, failing institutions, and weird galactic religions lead to space scandal and instability and war in the Familias Regnant stories.

Poorly-controlled wormhole transportation systems, loopholes in interstellar communications protocols, and cut-throat economic competition feature in the Vatta's War stories.

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Given what I've seen of your tastes in the past I think you might really like Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire series. I think the grimdark label may get overused but this is certainly a grim, dark future, and yet despite that there's still just about enough humanity in the characters to introduce a tiny amount of hope.

Anne Leckie's Ancillary trilogy is another excellent recent series, at times I was reminded of Iain M. Banks' work when reading it and there are few bigger compliments I can give a space opera work.

3 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I'm thinking of starting with Larry Niven's "Ringworld"

Ringworld has some interesting ideas and has had some influence on the genre but I really hated the characterisation in it.

3 hours ago, polishgenius said:

A Fire Upon the Deep/A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge. The second in particular is a masterclass of tension and plotting and scullduggery, though the first is a cracking read too.

I think these are both among the best SF novels I've read. A Fire Upon The Deep has some of the most fascinating aliens I've read about, and the Galactic Internet portion of the plotline is starting to seem eerily prescient in this era of Fake News.

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32 minutes ago, williamjm said:

...Ringworld has some interesting ideas and has had some influence on the genre but I really hated the characterisation in it...

Memorable or relatable or differentiated characters don't seem to be Larry Niven's strong point in the books I have read.  He has many interesting ideas, and he can put together a neat plot that covers those ideas, but for me, his characters are replaceable cardboard cut-outs.

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5 hours ago, Wilbur said:

If you enjoyed the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold, you might also consider trying either of Elizabeth Moon's series of military / economic space opera.  They feature strong, well-written female protagonists, space battles, warring economic systems and hegemonies, and some light romance.

I've read A SHARD OF HONOR and BARRAYAR while having just started THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE. I actually was disappointed Cordelia wasn't the star of the entire series.

I admit, so far I'm liking Miles but I actually kind of miss the more Klingon-esque Barrayar.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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I think you need to define Space Opera, cause some of these recs are all over the place.

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10 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I've read A SHARD OF HONOR and BARRAYAR while having just started THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE. I actually was disappointed Cordelia wasn't the star of the entire series.

I admit, so far I'm liking Miles but I actually kind of miss the more Klingon-esque Barrayar.

I think the Miles books get better as they go along, The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game are fun but they aren't as good as Barrayar or later books like Memory or A Civil Campaign.

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10 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

I think you need to define Space Opera, cause some of these recs are all over the place.

I was going to say "no mentions of The Expanse?" but then wondered if I even have a good grasp on the definition of space opera.

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12 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

I think you need to define Space Opera, cause some of these recs are all over the place.

I'm going with "Science fiction in space which doesn't necessarily worry about the hardness of what's possible but just the characters." I'm not going to be too harsh on the definitions of it versus sci-fi but just prefer good stories. Basically, I'll take just about anything with interstellar civilizations and mankind's interactions in them.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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1 hour ago, Darth Richard II said:

In that case The Expanse for sure.

I'm three books into the Expanse with the third one being so-kay. Really, I think I am kind of spoiled by the television show as while I enjoy the novels, I like how the show presents the world in a much harsher and more cynical light. I can't be too hard on the third book, though, because it actually had a very credible Michael Carpenter-esque Good Shepherd in it.

Still, it did seem like the book series started to drag at that point.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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5 hours ago, Triskele said:

I was going to say "no mentions of The Expanse?" but then wondered if I even have a good grasp on the definition of space opera.

This is an excellent summary of my personal experience reading this thread

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35 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

This is an excellent summary of my personal experience reading this thread

Changed the name to accommodate.

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I'm going to second (or perhaps 'fourth') the recommendation for Vinge's Zones of Thought series. This is one of the instances in which I would recommend the internal chronological order over the publication order. That is:

  • A Deepness in the Sky
  • A Fire Upon the Deep
  • The Children of the Sky

The Expanse is also good, although it is not at the same level. There's also John Scalzi's Old Man's War series which likewise has quite a few original ideas.

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I'm a big fan of OLD MAN'S WAR but I felt the story started to run out of steam quickly with Zoe's Story being the last story which had any of the original enjoyment factor. I enjoyed THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE but I felt it was a bit on the Red Dwarf side of things. It was a little too ridiculous to enjoy on a serious level.

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Actually, the canonical Red Dwarf novels (Infinity Welcomes Careful DriversBetter Than LifeBackwards) are very good humourous space opera novels, and not the disposable TV tie-ins they could have been. I strongly recommend them if you haven't read them before.

I'm a big appreciator of Dan Abnett's work on the Warhammer 40,000 setting, particularly in the Gaunt's Ghosts series. They're not space operas, but are set on different planets. The much shorter Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies are a bit more space opera-esque. Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain books may be more appropriate, as they feature actual interaction between different species rather than trying to murder them (plus they're quite funny).

Stephen Donaldson's Gap Cycle is required reading for space opera, IMO. It's very well-written, very clever, oddly familiar (GRRM cheerfully stole his POV structure from them) and quite dark.

Hamilton is the modern king of space opera, particularly The Night's Dawn Trilogy (and its prequel short story collection) and then the sequential series (in a different universe) The Commonwealth SagaThe Void Trilogy and The Chronicle of the Fallers duology. He's also working on a brand-new space opera trilogy in a new universe right now.

Reynolds is also excellent, but his signature SF universe (the Revelation Space setting) is a little conservative with no FTL and the aliens are very strange and bizarre.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is decent and The Fall of Hyperion is pretty good. The two further sequels are bollocks and unnecessary.

Ender's Game and Foundation are "classics" of the genre, but neither stand up very well as modern reads (particularly Foundation, which has not aged well at all).

For a real, all-out, mega-epic widescreen, colourful and fun space opera with tons of stuff going on, lots of alien races, lots of clever ideas and is well written, I'd strongly recommend David Brin's Uplift Saga: Sundiver, Startide RisingThe Uplift WarBrightness ReefInfinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach. You can skip Sundiver, which isn't very good has FA to do with the rest of the series, and start with Startide Rising, which is much better.

Edited by Werthead

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I should mention for those who aren't me, I became interested in the genre literature due to the Honor Harrington series. While I think the series became unreadable after WAR OF HONOR, I think it was great competence porn up until then.

I also like the Indie YA series, ALEXIS CAREW which is basically Honor Harrington with a teenage girl heroine.

 

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