Best Space Opera Books

Space opera is one of the most beloved subgenres of science fiction and widely misunderstood outside of a niche audience. Other than Dune, many people struggle to name a space opera book. Space operas often feature expansive plots with a combination of space battles and melodrama.

So, what should you read if you’re interested in this subgenre? Here are 25 of the best space opera books ever published.

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Our Top 25 Space Opera Novels


25. Cassastar

by Alex J. Cavanaugh
CassaStar
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3.903.683.153.58
Average Star Ratings Out of 5

Overview

Cassastar was the debut novel from Alex J. Cavanaugh and the first entry in a series of novels. The writing and story are simple, making it a quick, fun read. It centers around a rebellious young space pilot and features plenty of fast-paced military action.

Readers often compare Cassastar to the early work of Robert Heinlein. It has the same pulp style found in early space opera novels.

What Reviewers Say

With all this story has to offer, I’m still shocked that it all boils down to a great buddy story. This book is about friendship in a way most people haven’t considered. When two men go into war willing to die or live for the other, exciting things happens.

Toi Thomas

24. Triplanetary

by E. E. Smith
Triplanetary
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4.303.653.273.74
Average Star Ratings Out of 5

Overview

Triplanetary is a classic space opera that initially appeared in the influential Amazing Stories magazine in 1934. It was later published as a novel with revisions to make it a prequel to a series of books.

The main story includes interplanetary commerce, space pirates, and an alien invasion. It is also epic in scope, spanning the destruction of Atlantis and the fall of Rome to the third world war and beyond.

Favorite Quote

“Because America, being a democracy, could not strike first, but had to wait — wait in instant readiness — until she was actually attacked.”

What Reviewers Say

It’s the first space opera, and all other space operas, including “Star Wars”, follow in its footsteps.

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23. The Skylark of Space

by E. E. Smith
The Skylark of Space
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4.403.763.383.85
Average Star Ratings Out of 5

Overview

The Skylark of Space is often considered the first space opera. It was serialized in Amazing Stories in 1928 and was one of the earliest science fiction stories to include interstellar travel. The novel launches a group of characters into deep space and confronts them with a series of adventures.

As with many early space opera novels of the pulp era, The Skylark of Space is known for its lean plot and simple writing.

What Reviewers Say

I would easily recommend this to anyone interested in the foundations of not just space opera but science fiction as well. It’s a fun read… nowhere near literature, but a quick read. If you like your heroes smart, witty, athletic, and ultimately the height of “good” and your villains dark, evil, and nefarious, this is the book for you.

Kelly Cipera, Fandomania

22. Consider Phlebas

by Iain M. Banks
Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1)
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4.003.863.723.86
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Overview

Published in 1987, Consider Phlebas is a space opera novel by Iain M. Banks and the first in a series set against a galaxy-spanning battle.

It is another fast-paced story with frequent action scenes, including space battles and shootouts. The novel also includes enough mystery to keep you glued until the explosive finale.

Favorite Quote

“Experience as well as common sense indicated that the most reliable method of avoiding self-extinction was not to equip oneself with the means to accomplish it in the first place.”

What Reviewers Say

Banks hooks the reader with his first words and pulls them into the story; he leaves no room for second-guessing or thoughts of turning back.

Perpetually Past Due

21. The Praxis

by Walter Jon Williams
The Praxis: Dread Empire's Fall (Dread Empire's Fall Series Book 1)
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4.103.833.663.86
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Overview

The Praxis is the first book in the Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy by Walter Jon Williams. The novels are set in a universe ruled by a single tyrannical alien race known as the Dread Empire.

As the Dread Empire falls, the main character races against time to stop a plot by another race to take over. It features everything you would expect in a space opera novel, including space combat, human drama, and politics.

Favorite Quote

“All around her was death and ruin, to which she had not been a participant but an angry witness. In a way, that was worse than dying. Even annihilation had been denied her.”

20. Revelation Space

by Alastair Reynolds
Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1)
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4.203.983.824.00
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Overview

Revelation Space was published in 2000 and written by Alastair Reynolds. The author has a Ph.D. in astronomy and previously worked for the European Space Agency, giving him more insight into the science behind common sci-fi tropes.

The novel is relatively complex, featuring three intertwining narratives that gradually merge. However, it also includes memorable scenes with detailed descriptions and page-turning suspense.

Favorite Quote

“The cards always look different when it's your turn to play them; loaded with subtly different possibilities.”

What Reviewers Say

By-and-large this was a read where I found the pages just melting away beneath my fingertips. I didn’t want it to stop. I never got tired of it. There is mystery upon mystery layered here, and as Reynolds slowly unraveled all of the various layers of the story and galactic history of these people, the tale only became more compelling to me.

Elitist Book Reviews

19. Gateway

by Frederik Pohl
Gateway (Heechee Saga)
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4.104.073.954.04
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Overview

Gateway is a 1977 novel written by prolific science fiction writer Frederik Pohl. The novel is the first in the Heechee Saga and revolves around the Gateway, a space station built into an asteroid by an extinct alien race.

Humans learn to harness the technology of the extinct race, leading to interstellar travel. It is a character-driven space opera and a quick read.

Favorite Quote

“What were we doing here? Traveling hundreds or thousands of light-years, to break our hearts?”

Pohl has still got the rage – a fact which seems all the more impressive considering he’s 92. Small surprise then, that Gateway, written when he was a positively spritely 60-something bursts with energy, anger, intelligence and fierce, warm humanity.

The Guardian

18. Dauntless

by Jack Campbell
The Lost Fleet: Dauntless
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4.403.953.774.04
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Overview

Published in 2006, Dauntless is the story of a reluctant hero leading humanity in a fight against an alien race.

The novel delves into the logistics of large space battles, becoming more of a military sci-fi novel instead of a space opera. However, there are elements of high drama and an epic plotline that adds more depth.

Favorite Quote

“There are things we don't do. From this moment forth, let us all ensure our every action reflects well on us and our ancestors. Let us live to the highest standards, lest we win this war only to find ourselves staring in the mirror at the face of our late enemy.”

17. Ancillary Justice

by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch Book 1)
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4.203.974.004.06
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Overview

Ancillary Justice is the first novel in the Imperial Radch trilogy. Published in 2013, the first novel centers around a character’s quest for justice after being stranded on an icy planet.

The story is split between several narratives and is ambitious in scope yet simple to read. Most readers find it gripping and entertaining.

Favorite Quote

“Luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”

What Reviewers Say

A space opera that skillfully handles both choruses and arias, Ancillary Justice is an absorbing thousand-year history, a poignant personal journey, and a welcome addition to the genre.

NPR

16. The Algebraist

by Iain M. Banks
The Algebraist
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4.404.033.804.08
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Overview

The Algebraist follows an unlikely hero, original alien civilizations, and the consequences of traveling through wormholes.

It is a short, fun book with many of the characteristics of space operas. The story is set over 2000 years in the future and includes interplanetary travel and a significant threat that the main character needs to resolve.

Favorite Quote

“We are wasting time." 
"Time wastes itself. Who are we to float in its way?”

What Reviewers Say

The Algebraist marks a return to the happy hunting grounds of Banks’s early SF, replete with all the whizzy boys’ toys, wildly improbable extreme sports, damning character assassinations and good-humoured condemnation of all that’s wearying about humanity.

The Guardian

15. Dragon Pearl

by Yoon Ha Lee
Dragon Pearl
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4.703.823.804.11
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Overview

Written by Yoon Ha Lee and published by Disney Hyperion, Dragon Pearl is unique for its blending of space opera with Korean folklore.

The novel follows a teenage fox spirit as she travels the galaxy searching for answers to her brother’s disappearance. It was written for a young adult audience but should appeal to adult fans of the space opera subgenre.

What Reviewers Say

Mixing science fiction and fantasy sometimes results in a dilution of both genres, but this combination of space opera and Korean folklore finds the right, enjoyable balance.

Common Sense Media

14. Startide Rising

by David Brin
Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga Book 2)
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4.404.043.994.14
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Startide Rising is a 1983 novel by David Brin and the second in a six-book series. The novel received wide acclaim when it was published and remains popular among sci-fi fans.

The story is about the crew of a spaceship sent to investigate a derelict fleet of 50,000 ships. Along with a mystery, the novel features several alien races and talking dolphins.

Favorite Quote

“The propensity of Earthlings to get into trouble, and to learn thereby, was the reason my owners agreed to this mad venture – although no one expected such a chain of unusual calamities as befell this ship. Your talents were underrated.”

What Reviewers Say

Few books written in the 1980s did as good a job as Brin’s work of recreating the good old “sense of wonder” that I remember from my youth.

Tor.com

13. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

by Robert Heinlein
Have Space Suit - Will Travel (Heinlein's Juveniles Book 12)
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4.703.923.814.14
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Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is another entry written for young adults. It was written by Robert Heinlein and published in 1958.

It was the last of Heinlein’s juvenile novels and known for its realistic descriptions of electronics and technologies. However, it also includes a wild plot involving alien abduction and moon bases.

Favorite Quote

“We’re simply trying to survive—and the first principle of survival is not to worry about the impossible and concentrate on what’s possible.”

What Reviewers Say

In short, Have Spacesuit… shows many of the author’s strengths and in particular to write uniquely stylish, entertaining and engaging science fiction.

Mark Yon, SFFWorld

12. Pandora’s Star

by Peter F. Hamilton
Pandora's Star (The Commonwealth Saga Book 1)
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4.304.233.984.17
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Pandora’s Star was the first novel in the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton. The story follows the investigation into the disappearance of two distant stars and the subsequent discovery of an alien race. 

The story includes space adventures and an epic plotline that spans dozens of characters and worlds.

Favorite Quote

“Life's a bitch, then you rejuvenate and do it all over again.”

11. A Fire Upon the Deep

by Vernor Vinge
A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought, 1)
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4.304.134.114.18
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A Fire Upon the Deep won numerous book awards after its release in 1992. Vernor Vinge’s epic novel is a sprawling space opera with aliens, space warfare, romance, and genocide.

The variety of aliens and the deep world-building help make this one of the most original entries in the space opera subgenre.

Favorite Quote

“Sometimes the biggest disasters aren't noticed at all - no one's around to write horror stories.”

What Reviewers Say

With uninterrupted pacing, suspense without contrivance, and deftly drawn aliens who can be pleasantly comical without becoming cute, Vinge offers heart-pounding, mind-expanding science fiction at its best.

Publishers Weekly

10. The Forever War

by Joe Haldeman
The Forever War (The Forever War Series Book 1)
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4.404.144.034.19
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Overview

The Forever War is often described as a military sci-fi novel due to its focus on interstellar war. However, it is also a ground-breaking novel that explores the alienation that soldiers often experience after returning from war. Published in 1974, The Forever War is the first in a trilogy of books and praised for its honesty.

Favorite Quote

“The 1143-year-long war hand begun on false pretenses and only because the two races were unable to communicate. Once they could talk, the first question was 'Why did you start this thing?' and the answer was 'Me?”

9. Neutron Star

by Larry Niven
Neutron Star
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4.504.133.954.19
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Neutron Star is a short story written by renowned sci-fi author Larry Niven. It was eventually published in a compilation of short stories featuring the same name and stories set in the same universe.

The stories are humorous and easy to read. It follows an ex-pilot thrown into a series of space adventures set in Niven’s Known Space universe.


8. On Basilisk Station

by David Weber
On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Book 1)
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4.504.133.974.20
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On Basilisk Station is the first book in the Honor Harrington series. It is a space opera that revolves around a space cruiser on assignment to a distant star system.

The novel’s hero is a female military commander who overcomes numerous obstacles using ingenious solutions. The author would write several more books in the Honor Harrington series.

Favorite Quote

“WAGs... That's a technical term we engineers use. It means 'Wild-Assed Guess'.”

7. Old Man’s War

by John Scalzi
Old Man's War
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4.504.204.054.25
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Overview

Published in 2005, Old Man’s War is a science fiction book about a soldier and follows his career from recruit to captain. It is set in a universe with various alien races and unique technologies. The story includes many space battles along with romance and humor.

Favorite Quote

“I'm not insane, sir. I have a finely calibrated sense of acceptable risk.”

What Reviewers Say

It’s not difficult to see why so many of the readers who discovered “Old Man’s War,” the breakthrough novel by John Scalzi, immediately thought of Heinlein. Like “Starship Troopers,” this clever, promising book, published in 2005, is also told from the perspective of a new recruit to an interstellar combat force — the crucial difference being that the narrator of “Old Man’s War” is 75 years old.

Dave Itzkoff, New York Times

6. The Player of Games

by Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games (A Culture Novel Book 2)
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4.504.274.144.30
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The Player of Games is the follow-up to Consider Phlebas and the second novel in the Culture series from Iain M. Banks. The plot involves blackmail and a scheme to overthrow the empire.

Compared to the first book, The Player of Games can be a little more predictable but is generally considered an entertaining story.

Favorite Quote

“Escape is a commodity like anything else”

5. Hyperion

by Dan Simmons
Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, Book 1)
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4.504.234.194.31
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Overview

Hyperion is an award-winning novel by author Dan Simmons. It was published in 1989.

As with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the novel is divided into narratives from a large cast of characters from different walks of life, which helps flesh out the universe created for this space opera. It is a cult classic and has spawned several sequels.

Favorite Quote

“In the beginning was the Word. Then came the fucking word processor. Then came the thought processor. Then came the death of literature. And so it goes.”

4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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4.504.224.214.31
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Overview

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a genre-bending novel packed with humor, aliens, and Earth’s demise. While it is not typically considered a space opera, it includes an expansive story that takes readers to various unique alien planets and spaceships and provides a zany (yet mind-expanding) adventure reminiscent of Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.

Favorite Quote

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

What Reviewers Say

To read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is to step into the garden shed of a maverick genius while he’s out, to discover what ideas he has left lying around. But it is also as though Douglas Adams is speaking to you personally, gently, as he guides you through a perplexing world, assuring you “Don’t panic”.

The Guardian

3. Leviathan Wakes

by James S. A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse Book 1)
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4.13.723.553.79
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Overview

Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in the Expanse series, which was recently adapted into a television series by the Syfy Channel before moving to Amazon Studios. The plot includes politics, space trade, and the discovery of an alien technology that will change the lives of every character.

Favorite Quote

“Everyone too busy trying to survive to spend any time creating something new.”

2. Ender’s Game

by Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet)
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4.604.304.314.40
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Ender’s Game is a young adult novel written by Orson Scott Card set in the future where the presence of an insect-like race threatens humans. The young hero of the story must train to become the leader of humanity’s military forces. It is also the first book published in a series that spans 20 prequel and sequel stories.

Favorite Quote

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.”

What Reviewers Say

“Ender’s Game” is a piece of classic science fiction for a reason. Card has created an interesting world and a compelling story that not only entertains readers but forces them to think about serious issues that may often be ignored.

Grand Forks Herald

1. Dune

by Frank Herbert
Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1)
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4.704.234.284.40
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Overview

Released in 1965, Dune by Frank Herbert is widely considered one of the best science fiction novels of the 20th century. The story is set over 20,000 years in the future and revolves around the battle to control a planet and its essential resource called spice.

Dune features many of the hallmarks of the space opera genre, including a plot that spans multiple planets and features plenty of human emotion. However, it offers a little more depth than some of the other entries, as it explores themes of politics, technology, and religion.

Favorite Quote

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”

What Reviewers Say

This is a book written nearly 20 years before I was born, yet still strong enough to grip and consume me today. An incredible book in so many ways, forever relevant for transcendent reasons.

Richard Nell, Fantasy Book Review

Complete Rankings of Space Opera Books

RankBook TitleAmazonGoodreadsLibraryThingsOverall
1Dune4.704.234.284.40
2Ender’s Game4.604.304.314.40
3Leviathan Wakes4.704.254.024.32
4Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy4.504.224.214.31
5Hyperion4.504.234.194.31
6The Player of Games4.504.274.144.30
7Old Man’s War4.504.204.054.25
8On Basilisk Station4.504.133.974.20
9Neutron Star4.504.133.954.19
10The Forever War4.404.144.034.19
11A Fire Upon the Deep4.304.134.114.18
12Pandora’s Star4.304.233.984.17
13Startide Rising4.404.043.994.14
14Have Spacesuit, Will Travel4.703.923.814.14
15Dragon Pearl4.703.823.804.11
16The Algebraist4.404.033.804.08
17Ancillary Justice4.203.974.004.06
18Gateway4.104.073.954.04
19Dauntless4.403.953.774.04
20Revelation Space4.203.983.824.00
21The Praxis4.103.833.663.86
22Consider Phlebas4.003.863.723.86
23The Skylark of Space4.403.763.383.85
24Triplanetary4.303.653.273.74
25Cassastar3.903.683.153.58

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