by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
(guest post on SFFWORLD)
With all the excitement over a new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, especially one with the original cast and which seems to capture the original trilogy’s spirit, some fans of space opera might be looking for ways to keep getting their space opera fix. So here are 10 great series fans should check out:
Especially for those enamored with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, the new strong heroine of the new Star Wars, the New York Times Bestselling Honor books which are well over 25 now, are a great read. A bit more structured militarily and politically, they nonetheless follow the female heroine and her friends as they fight against an intergalactic Empire which threatens their system. Honor is a woman of immense talent and strength but lower self-confidence and ego, who seems as surprised by her own success most of the time as her enemies are. Shorter lengths, especially in the opening novels, make these easy to get into, but once you do, they are hard to put down. While On Basilik Station, the first book, is the logical place to start, many of these can standalone, despite ongoing arcs, so you can actually start almost anywhere and still enjoy them.
Written by a former Naval officer, this series follows Captain, then Admiral, Jack “Black Jack” Geary as he leads the Alliance in fighting the alien Syndics who are attempting to conquer their galaxy and beyond. Also military focused but rich in characters, this one is another can’t-put-down read which, like the Weber books, has now branched into multiple series offshoots. Also New York Times Bestsellers, you can start with The Lost Fleet original series or the Perilous Shield follow up series. With one or two books a year arriving, expect to enjoy this for a long time to come.
Now the basis of a new SyFy TV series, The Expanse books are grittier with an old fashioned feel, so not as kid friendly as the previous two series on our list, but their mix of political maneuvering, nourish mystery and subplots, and diverse, intriguing characters is a big win. SyFy bills them as the scifi Game Of Thrones but I don’t personally agree with the comparison. The Expanse is its own animal and a very good one at that, well worth checking out for space opera fans looking for something with a harder edge. Also New York Times bestsellers, they start withLeviathan’s Wake and continue from there, but the series is not following them strictly, so even if you’ve seen the show and worry the books will feel repetitive, they often won’t. Episodes are using material from later books mixed with earlier storylines. For me, they are a chance to explore the characters and world more richly and in depth for fans of the show.
The first 7 books were bestsellers in the 90s and early 2000s and now Anderson has returned to that universe for a new trilogy. The first two books, The Dark Between The Stars and Blood of The Cosmos are out, and the first received a Hugo nomination for Best Novel. The final book, Eternity’s Mind, arrives this summer. Anderson’s own ode to Star Wars and other influences (he himself has written several bestselling Star Wars books), this new trilogy continues the next generation of the original Seven Suns, which start with Hidden Empire and ends with The Ashes of Worlds. Huge cast of characters, space ships, aliens, battles, politics—epic in every way with all the key elements. Worth checking out.
Multiple Hugo winner Bujold serves up her own long running series about Miles Verkosigan, friends and family. The latest book, Gentleman Jole and The Red Queen, is out in February, but there are dozens here with multiple storylines and arcs to follow. Begun with Shards of Honor in 1986, the series has continued for thirty years and developed a huge fan base. The books started with how Miles’ parents met and fell in love and now follows his adventures as well. Since the books skip around through the decades of the series itself, so can readers. Almost anywhere is a good place to start. Filled with high adventure, epic politics, alien encounters, war, battles, and even romance, the series provides something for about everyone. Bestsellers all.
An epic series about survivors of a space craft who crash on planets inhabited by hostile, sentient aliens, the series has stretched to 16 books since it debuted. For those fascinated by the aliens of Star Wars and the diverse cultures that make up such epic stories, the Foreigner books really explore the culture clash of human and alien cultures as they attempt to live alongside one another and find either peace or destroy each other. Far more about the cultural politics and first encounter than military aspects, these are thinking man’s reads with rich characters and worlds and fascinating interactions that stretch out over many generations and thus can be entered into easily at any point. There are even subtrilogy installments.
What started with essentially a Romeo and Juliet in space story about two warring families has grown into an intergalactic saga on an epic scale. Now 14 books strong, from two different publishers, the series continues with the latest iteration delving into new mysteries surrounding royal families and assassination plots. The characters and world are rich and unfold gradually, like Star Wars with much complicated pre and post history readers just have to piece together as they discover it, and there is plenty of action mixed with interpersonal drama, politicking and even military aspects. Bestselling series.
This is a newer series but the second book is out in January. Following Peter Cochrane, an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy, this series has similar echoes to the Honor books and Lost Fleetwith its military focus, but is new enough and rich enough that all kinds of aspects are yet to be explored. Start with Impulse, then pick up Starbound and read away. While there is a bit of romance and sex mixed in, the real focus here is action and dynamic characters you want to root for with some humor and witty banter mixed in of the kind Star Wars fans expect and enjoy.
A master of his craft, Resnick is known for humorous banter mixed in with interesting politics and cross cultural encounters. The Starship series are set about the Starship Teddy Roosevelt as a group or rejects and raw recruits fight to defend their system and to survive on the outer edges of a galactic war. The Widowmaker series follows Jefferson Nighthawk, the consummate bounty hunter, who was frozen for a century in order to defeat a deadly disease but is called out of retirement for one special commission, and a very large chunk of cash. As he hunts an assassin haunting the galaxy, Nighthawk encounters aliens and schemers of all shapes and sizes and goes on a series of action packed adventures. For Boba Fett fans, this one will have broad appeal.
The Quadrail series will appeal to Star Wars fans looking for a shorter series. Only five books, it follows former government agent turned PI, Frank Compton, as he and a partner investigate a planned attack on the Quadrail, an incredible transportation system connecting civilizations across the galaxy with Earth. Zahn will already be familiar to Star Wars fans from his five Thrawnbooks, which launched the Expanded Universe bestselling novel series continuing the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and friends. But this is a series he created himself. Compton is compelling and the nourish detective elements and details of an interesting Quadrail and alien threat unfold gradually with real suspense and surprises along the way. A series that is shorter and self-contained for those less interested in voluminous series, it will nonetheless leave you wanting more.
There are numerous other such series inspired by Star Wars and Star Trek and the like, of course, and not all will be for everyone. But these 10 (actually 12) series will provide a great place to start, outside, of course, the Star Wars books themselves, which are too numerous to count. For a newer series which has received some acclaim for capturing the feel of Star Wars: A New Hope, including Honorable Mention on Barnes and Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases, you can check out my own Saga of Davi Rhii, which starts with The Worker Prince: Author’s Definitive Edition (Amazon) and will be continued in The Returning and The Exodus, out next year. Regardless of where you start, I hope you find something you can enjoy, and May The Force Be With You Always!
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a Hugo-nominated editor and author of adult and children’s science fiction and fantasy including The Worker Prince, Abraham Lincoln Dinosaur Hunter: Land Of Legends, and books in Decipher’s Wars and The X-Files (both forthcoming). He’s edited novels like The Martian by Andy Weir, Oshenerth by Alan Dean Foster and A Game of Authors by Frank Herbert as well as anthologies including Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games (forthcoming),Decision Points (forthcoming), Shattered Shields (with Jennifer Brozek), and Beyond The Sun.Find him on Twitter and Facebook as @BryanThomasS or at his website www.bryanthomasschmidt.net