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33 Must-Read Space Opera Books

Take an adventure among the stars with these must-read sagas. 

20 must read space opera books

Who doesn't love a good space opera? Thrilling adventures through outer space. Conflicts between competing alien civilizations. Heroes who rise from the ashes of war. 

While we normally associate space opera with epic tales and galaxy-spanning empires, many character-driven stories can also be found throughout the subgenre. In other words, there's something for everyone: military campaigns, conspiracies to unravel, found families to cheer on, and people discovering their grand destiny.

To give a good sampling of what the sci-fi subgenre has to offer, here are a constellation of must-read space opera books.

The Best Space Operas in the Galaxy



By Frank Herbert

Before Denis Villeneuve directed his acclaimed film adaptation, fans knew Dune as an epic series. 

The saga centers around desert planet Arrakis, the much-coveted drug extracted from its harsh terrain, and—perhaps most importantly of all—a young man named Paul Atreides who survives the destruction of his house and changes the course of the universe.

military scifi books

Trading in Danger

By Elizabeth Moon

Kylara Vatta wants nothing more than a life outside of working for her family's interstellar shipping corporation. She even enrolled in a military academy. But her dreams are dashed, and she finds herself the captain of a corporate trading ship.



By Elizabeth Bear

Doctor Jens spends her days jumping out of space ships and developing treatments for sick alien species. It's her dream job, but then she discovers a shocking mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crews are sick with an unknown condition, and the powers that control the ships are failing too. Dr. Jens decides to investigate, but what she uncovers could change the face of the entire galaxy.

The Stars Are Legion

The Stars Are Legion

By Kameron Hurley

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion has become the battleground for many colonies, each hoping to gain control over it. Amid the wreckage lies the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. 

For Zan, who has woken up with no memories and found herself the prisoner of a people who say they are her family, the Mokshi is her salvation. But who are the good guys in this perennial battle over Legion? She must choose sides, even though the horrors of war mean there are no true innocents.

books like the mandalorian saga

Saga Volume 1

By Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

If you're looking for something outside of the traditional novel format, you can't go wrong with this comic series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Saga tells the story of a love affair between two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic affair. Science and fantasy intertwine in this drama, where a family only ever wants to find their place in a vast and dangerous universe. 

the interdependency series

The Interdependency Series

The title of The Collapsing Empire, the first book in John Scalzi’s space opera Interdependency trilogy, hints at the dilemma faced by humanity. 

The human race has spread throughout space courtesy of the Flow, an extradimensional field that allows travel from planet to planet. In its wake, an empire arises that hinges on a single precept: no world can exist without the others. 

But then the Flow begins to shift, threatening to cut off all planets from each other forever.



By Karl Schroeder

When 17-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he fears the end is in sight. He drifts into what he believes will be his final sleep, but then he wakes up and discovers that 14,000 years have passed. The frozen and uninhabitable planet he was orbiting is now a thriving civilization, the center of the Lockstep Empire. Here, citizens sleep for decades and wake for days or weeks, able to survive for millennia and withstand difficult circumstances.

 Lockstep is the center of the galaxy, and its ruler is Toby's own brother, Peter. He's now a despotic tyrant who fears that Toby will try to claim his rightful inheritance. Newly awake and with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the empire, his siblings, and impending hibernation.

Children of Time

Children of Time

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

When Earth becomes uninhabitable, the last survivors of humanity are forced into space in search of a new home. They think their wildest dreams have come true when they discover a terraformed world, ready for human life, but all is not what it seems. 

Another civilization found the planet first and has claimed it as its own. It seems the planet isn't big enough for the two of them, but humanity has no better options. Who inherits this new Earth will determine humanity's fate in Tchaikovsky's modern classic. 


Sentients of Orion

By Marianne de Pierres

Baronessa Mira Fedor has enough struggles to face when an invasion plunges her homeworld into chaos. 

Then a betrayal forces her to flee the planet entirely, driving her to seek out the Orion League of Sentient Species. But they show no interest in helping her—and worse yet, seem to be targeting her now as well. 

The Killing of Worlds

The Killing of Worlds

By Scott Westerfeld

Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial frigate Lynx has been wrongly accused of the death of the Child Empress, sister of the immortal Emperor. As penance, he's being forced to stop a vastly superior Rix ship from reaching the planet Legis. It's a suicide mission and everyone knows it. Ten light-years away, Captain Zai's true love, the psychic Senator Nara Oxham is dealing with intense political backstabbing amid the Emperor's War Council. She must find a way to forestall the Emperor's final solution of nuclear war that would kill millions of his own people.

best science fiction books

Ancillary Justice

By Ann Leckie

In the far future, the Radch empire uses AI-controlled starships that can also control human bodies known as ancillaries. 

The trilogy opens with Breq, the sole surviving ancillary of a destroyed starship, on her quest of revenge.

The Fractal Prince

The Fractal Prince

By Hannu Rajaniemi

Jean Le Flambeur is a legendary gentleman thief known across the galaxy. This is a future where Earth has been decimated by super-intelligent AI and posthumanism rules all. After escaping prison, Jean find himself in possession of Schrödinger's Box, and he needs to open it fast. Inside the box is his ticket to freedom… or instant ruin. 



By E. E. "Doc" Smith

Considered by many to be the father of the space opera subgenre as we know it, E.E. Doc Smith first published the Lensman series as a serialization through various periodicals during the 1930s. 

It features classic tropes like good versus evil locked in a cosmic war and a tool that gives unimaginable power.

The Star Fox

The Star Fox

By Poul Anderson

When a human space colony is taken captive by alien aggressors, intergalactic privateer Gunnar Heim takes matters into his own hands. Gunnar and the volunteers he assembles as a crew for his spaceship, Star Fox, Gunnar prepares for a fight light years from Earth. A classic of the genre from a Grand Master of Science Fiction, Star Fox was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1965.

The Forever War

The Forever War

By Joe Haldeman

One of the first, best, and most-enduring space operas is Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, which follows Private William Mandella as he is transported through space and time to do his part in the thousand-year conflict between humans and aliens. Haldeman's story not only details the sweeping stakes of an interplanetary war, but also the intimate, personal cost for those who fight within it. 

Up Against It

Up Against It

By Laura J. Mixon

Geoff and his friends live in Phocaea, a distant asteroid colony on the outskirts of the solar system. Their lives are otherwise pretty typical for teenagers, albeit with more time spent on rocket-bikes than skateboards. They're also under constant surveillance, the subjects of 'Stroiders, a reality-TV show whose Earthside producers have paid handsomely for the privilege of spying on them. 

When Geoff's brother Carl is mysteriously killed, they discover that their lives are under threat from even more insidious forces. The Martian mafia is after control of Phocaea, a rogue AI is on the loose, and there's a transhumanist cult living in the colony's basements. It's up to a group of teens to save the day and stop their home from being destroyed.

2017 hugo awards

Falling Free (The Vorkosigan Saga Book 1)

By Lois McMaster Bujold

The long-running Vorkosigan Saga spans numerous books and multiple short stories. 

While there are some exceptions, most of the stories revolve around Miles Vorkosigan, a disabled aristocrat whose entire existence and military career challenges his planet’s social mores.



By Samuel R. Delany

What if language were a weapon? That's the question posed by standalone novel Babel-17

When linguist Rydra Wong is sent to discover how humanity's enemies have been assassinating their officials and sabotaging their spaceships, she discovers that they've created a language which alters perception and thought. 

The problem with this language? It turns anyone who learns it into traitors—including Rydra.

books like Mass Effect becky chambers long way to a small angry planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

By Becky Chambers

Rosemary Harper joined the crew of the Wayfarer to escape her past. She certainly didn't join it to go on a dangerous mission. So begins The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, the first novel in this quartet of standalones from Becky Chambers

The Stars Are Legion

The Stars Are Legion

By Kameron Hurley

The Legion are a fleet of decaying world-ships. Our heroine in this standalone awakens with no memory and a mission to board a world-ship with the ability to leave the Legion. 

But, as these things go, there's more happening here than meets the eye.

Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas

By Iain M. Banks

Long-running sagas are commonplace in science fiction, but the novels in Banks' Culture series are refreshingly standalone. 

As a society that features a post-scarcity economy, the Culture is both frighteningly advanced and idealistic. 

That sounds nice in theory, but problems are bound to arise when encountering other civilizations with different ideals.

a memory of empire

A Memory Called Empire

By Arkady Martine

Martine's Teixcalaan duology opens with a mystery. An ambassador arrives at the heart of the Empire to discover her predecessor has been murdered—not that anyone will admit this is what happened. 

Now she must discover the truth while navigating the perilous politics of the imperial court.


Startide Rising

By David Brin

David Brin's Uplift saga revolves around a simple concept: no species gains sentience without being genetically assisted—or uplifted—by a patron race. 

There's only been one exception to the rule: the human race. And this mystery terrifies the entire universe.


A Passage of Stars

By Kate Elliott

Lily Ransome has no desire to follow societal expectations. She doesn't want to join the family business, and she doesn't want to become a proper wife and mother. 

When her beloved mentor is kidnapped by bounty hunters, Lily follows their trail into outer space. And if she joins an intergalactic rebellion along the way? It happens.

books like the mandalorian ninefox gambit

Ninefox Gambit

By Yoon Ha Lee

A fallen-from-grace infantry captain teams up with an undead general to retake a fortress. But seeking help from this particular general—who was responsible for multiple massacres—might have been a mistake.

the seafort saga David Feintuch

The Seafort Saga Books 1–3

By David Feintuch

Often dubbed Horatio Hornblower in outer space, this series follows Nicolas Seafort on his interstellar adventures from his humble beginnings as a young midshipman on his first assignment.

the saga of seven suns

Hidden Empire

By Kevin J. Anderson

Humans have spread across the galaxy. But when they attempt to harness technology to further their colonization efforts, they inadvertently start a war with a hidden alien empire. 

Variable Star

Variable Star

By Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson

When Joel Johnston first met Jinny Hamilton, it was love at first sight. They're ready to marry but Joel is broke and is struggling to earn enough money as a composer to make it happen. Jinny then reveals a secret: she's actually Jinny Conrad, the granddaughter of Richard Conrad, the wealthiest man in the solar system. Joel did the sensible thing upon hearing the news and ran away to go on a wild bender, ending up on a colony ship heading out into space. 

How could things get any messier? How about with the addition of a cosmic cataclysm that threatens to destroy all of humanity?

scary creatures sci-fi Hyperion The Shrike Dan Simmons


By Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos begins with a pilgrimage. On the eve of war, seven people seek out the Shrike, a powerful creature living in the Time Tombs. 

But this isn't the first time each of these pilgrims have encountered the Shrike, which has motives of its own.

hard sci-fi books by women

All Systems Red

By Martha Wells

Space operas can have fun, too, you know. While the Murderbot series by Martha Wells has no shortage of stakes or sci-fi action, the narration of the self-aware cyborg security agent that enjoys soap operas more than its day job. Though the first entry in the series comes in at a tidy 156 pages, it packs plenty of punch, winning the 2018 Hugo, Nebula, annd Locus Awards for Best Novella. 



By Martin Leicht, Isla Neal

Elvie Nara is a perfectly normal teenage girl just trying to get by, but when she ends up pregnant, her parents ship her off to the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers. Before she can get there, a team of hot commandos hijacks the ship, and one of them is Cole, the gorgeous but dim guy who knocked her up! He claims that the school she's being sent to is a front for an alien species who want to use her unborn baby as a way to repopulate their own species. 

Together, Elvie and Cole must get off this ship, stop the bad guys, and figure out if they're even ready for parenthood.

The Diadem Saga

The Diadem Saga Books 1–3

By Jo Clayton

Aleytys was abandoned by her mother and left in the care of a superstitious tribe. Barely tolerated by her reluctant guardians, she goes on the run when a catastrophe draws their ire. 

On her journey, Aleytys comes across a technological marvel known as the Diadem. But the object attracts more trouble because it belongs to an alien race determined to retrieve it at any cost.

Leviathan Wakes James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes

By James S.A. Corey

Humanity has colonized the solar system and is locked in a cold war between Earth and Mars. But when a ship is attacked while responding to a distress call, its crew stumbles across a vast conspiracy.

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