55 Essential Space Operas from the Last 70 Years

harris

Source: Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantsasy Blog
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What makes a science fiction story a space opera? Well, it needs to take place in space obviously, though not necessarily all of the time. Hanging out solely in an arcology on a climate-blasted Earth, or even in a domed city on Mars, doesn’t cut it. Actually, the more space the better; though there are certainly exceptions, a good space opera should span a galaxy or two, or at least a solar system. And an opera has to be grand and dramatic –battling empires, invading aliens, mysterious ancient technology, and grand, sweeping story arcs.

HERE are 55 science fiction stories from the last 70 years that make the cut.

BOOK REVIEW: Injection Burn (Dire Earth Duology #1) by Jason M. Hough

Injection Burn (Dire Earth Duology #1)Injection Burn (Dire Earth Duology #1) by Jason M. Hough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part one of a thrilling action-adventure sci-fi duology featuring indomitable characters, incredible worlds, and plenty of rip-roaring action and thrills!

Skyler Luiken and his ragtag crew of scavengers, scientists, and brawlers have a new mission: a long journey to a distant planet where a race of benevolent aliens are held captive behind a cloud of destructive ships known as the Swarm Blockade. No human ships have ever made it past this impenetrable wall, and Skyler knows not what to anticipate when they reach their destination.

Safe to say that the last thing he expects to find there is a second human ship led by the tough-as-nails Captain Gloria Tsandi. These two crews and their respective captains initially clash, but they will have to learn to work together when their mutual foe closes in around them and begins the outright destruction of their vessels along with any hope of a return to Earth.

***** *** *******

DISCLAIMER: Review copy from NetGalley. Scheduled for publication May 30, 2017.

Picking up where the Dire Earth Cycle series left off, Injection Burn is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure in which the author never takes his foot off the gas. It’s action from start to finish. It concludes abruptly and leaves the reader poised for the next phase of the adventure.

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I’d previously read The Darwin Elevator (which I enjoyed), the first book of Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, but never got around to reading the other books in the series. I didn’t let that deter me and, after some research, it sounded like I could approach these new books which are set within the same universe and overall story arc as a standalone series. That’s generally true because there are a lot of references to people and events from the Dire Earth Cycle and these are explained in enough detail to get the picture. The story is a continuation of those prior events, with the opening scene of this book set over a thousand years after the close of The Plague Forge (the last book of the Dire Earth Cycle) yet the two timelines merge together rather neatly early on and continue as one thread.

It’s got a definite military vibe (even though it’s not about a military force as such) mixed with some solid space opera elements and as I mentioned earlier is jam-packed with action. There is tons of explosions, combat and lots cool weapons tech, so no complaints there. The writing style is very “visual” by which I mean that it’s very busy with events moving about the place most of the time and the scenes jump around a lot. Sure, the text is descriptive and engrossing and I generally found it easy to see the events in my mind’s eye but I did find myself occasionally stumbling if I lost the picture. Combined with the fact that this book is quite light on dialogue, it was a fast read that I devoured easily over a few days. There, however, are a couple of reasons why I didn’t find this book all that satisfying in a storytelling sense.

Firstly, there isn’t anything significant to impress me, no jaw-dropping moments of revelation or majestic vistas of the cosmos, etc. To be fair, there’s a scene early in the book of an alien planet with some strange creatures which isn’t too bad, and at the end where we get a look at the alien Builder’s besieged homeworld which looks awesome. But overall I was a tad underwhelmed by the world building. Secondly, I didn’t respond with any enthusiasm (positively or negatively) to any of the characters. I think the author has scrimped a little in this department and I found them all a little one-dimensional and shallow. I didn’t even have a favorite, be it a good guy or bad guy. I ended up not really caring who got killed or not because, apart from the central character, nobody seems to be anything more than a simple pawn, relevant in terms of the action yet insignificant within the bigger story. Maybe they will come into their own in the next book. I guess we’ll see. Fixing these areas would make this book really hum and turn it from something just okay into something a lot more satisfying.

As us bookish types sometimes do, I felt a bit lost when the book came to an end. This may sound surprising after what I’ve just said about it, but I really did want to continue and see it develop into something spectacular. Maybe it will in book two Escape Velocity which is scheduled for release later in the year (due date June 27th at the time of writing).

I’m fairly sure that anybody who has enjoyed Hough’s earlier books would find this one similarly enjoyable because it’s written well and is certainly easy to read. But for me it lacks a bit of story meat on it’s bones.

Concept: 3/5
Delivery: 4/5
Entertainment: 2/5
= 3 out of 5

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BOOK REVIEW: Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2)Waking Gods (Themis Files #2)  by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4.7 of 5 stars

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

***** *** *******

Bloody hell, and I thought that Sleeping Giants (review HERE) was fast-paced! This second book of the Themis Files changes into an even higher gear, the story rocketing along so rapidly that, before I knew it, I was at the end. And with another cliff-hanger for good measure. I read this book, which is slightly longer than the first book, in exactly two sessions. To be fair, I had the excuse of being sick in bed with plenty of time on my hands, but still I didn’t want to put it down and stop the roller coaster ride.

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Again, I believe it is Neuvel’s storytelling method that created this reading experience. Just like Sleeping Giants the story continues to be laid out by the presentation chronologically ordered files such as interviews, mission logs and personal journal entries. This form of narrative gives a very intimate view of the action, even closer than a traditional first-person account, allowing you to feel much more “inside” the story. These are the first books that I’ve read that use this format for their entirety, and it has again worked very, very effectively.

To me, just like book one, the story still has a distinct young adult vibe to it, possibly even more so. Apart from the occasional profanity, there’s really nothing that would keep this from being suitable for a younger reader. The characterization seemed a little deeper as well, but possibly this was simply because the majority of the characters are carried over from the first book and they are becoming more familiar. We also learn some background of the mysterious interviewer who seems to be the main driving force behind much of the events, and we get a good look at his human side. We also learn more of the even more inexplicable Mr. Burns who is the main source of information about the alien invaders. But, just as we are given more clues about such matters, the intrigue continues to grow with the discovery of yet more perplexing things. Like I said earlier, we get left with another cliff-hanger and now need to wait until the as yet unannounced third book is published for the ride to continue.

As well as the techno-thriller elements, there is a goodly amount of hard sci-fi to be found in here too, especially of the genetic and biological variety which will please fans of that sort of stuff. The author is obviously quite learned and/or has thoroughly researched these fields because the technical language appears legitimate, not that I’m schooled in these myself. If I’d read that same description myself before opening the book I’d have probably thought that maybe it might be a bit of a yawn in places, but it’s really not, the brief scientific lectures being quite necessary to the plot. One minute you’re being taught about the differences in the sugars of DNA and RNA, the next you’re on a desperate run from an alien weapon. Great stuff to keep you on the edge of your seat and thinking the whole way through.

I’m going to rate this novel exactly the same as the first series installment because it’s a continuation of the same story, told in the same way and with the same level of satisfaction. It’s old news now, but I’ve just learned that Hollywood has taken notice because the rights to the series have been purchased by Sony Pictures for a movie adaptation. Awesome! I’ll certainly pay money to see that. It surely will turn out better than another movie with some obvious similaritiesPacific Rimwhich is quite possibly the single worst movie I’ve ever seen. It had better be because, in this series, we have one of the most entertaining stories released in the science-fiction genre over the last few years.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.7 out of 5

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BOOK REIVIEW: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4.7 of 5 stars

Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.
 
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
 
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
 
But some can never stop searching for answers.
 
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

***** *** *******

This is a fun and interesting book, both in the thematic sense and also in the storytelling style. It’s a relatively short sci-fi techno-thriller with what I think has a slight “youthy” feel, but I see this as a good thing, making it accessible to a wider audience of readers. I’d have loved this as a teenage reader just as much as I did as an “older” one. It’s a book that you could give to many readers because it contains solid tropes from the sci-fi genre as well as the fast action entertainment of a thriller. They all mix together rather nicely into a very entertaining story.

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Neuvel dispenses altogether with a traditional narrative by telling the story by a chronological sequence of files which are mostly transcripts of interviews with key characters or news bulletins about events relevant to the story. Central to this is the interviewer, a mysterious nameless person who is leading efforts to recover parts of an ancient artifact which are buried in various parts Earth, a “robot” which is apparently thousands of years old. You’re constantly wondering who this person really is and who he (I think it’s a “he”) works for. How is it that he has access to such limitless resources? And how come he appears to have the ear of high ranking officials like the President? These questions, and others are not really answered as the story unfolds, but since this is a series I assume that things will be revealed in due course. The interviewer’s character is excellent and I enjoyed him a lot. He’s usually cold and manipulative, using anything and everything at his disposal to fulfil his mission yet he also demonstrates some subtle humor at times within his curt and efficient words. Along with the narrative format, this character is the book’s best facet.

The other characters are also good, none of whom I felt any true empathy with, yet they were real enough and appropriate for the story. Their psyches flowed from the pages easily and this demonstrates to me Neuvel’s skill as a writer. To clarify, I’m a reader who often doesn’t feel much connection with characters unless they are particularly relevant to me, yet this lot interested me quite sufficiently. Again, it’s probably the format of the narrative that lends itself to a brutally honest exposé of their personalities. Let’s call this the book’s second best facet.

While the story itself didn’t “blow me away” as such (although I’ve heard rumors that the second book ramps things up a bit) it was a hoot to read because it trots along at a rapid pace in true thriller style. Laid down in chronological order, it is very easy to follow and because Neuvel’s writing flows well, I didn’t need to backtrack to pick up the story after losing the scent, not even once. Yet again, I attribute this to the concise format.

Because it’s a short novel, I found myself reaching the end all too quickly and scrambling to get my hands on book two, helped by the ending itself being a bit of a plot-twisting cliff-hanger. It’s all good stuff and all of the elements combine into a wonderfully entertaining novel that is sure to please any reader who is interested by the synopsis.

In summary, I’d certainly have to agree with the vast majority of readers and reviewers in saying that this is a fine new novel from a promising writing talent. I’d be surprised if Hollywood hasn’t already noticed it because it’s got action movie written all over it. I’d also wager that Sylvain Neuvel is probably going to do alright out of this. Well, he deserves it for producing such an entertaining story. I’m now going to hop straight into book two of the series Waking Gods because I’m not ready to pause the story just yet, I’m having too much fun.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 4.7 out of 5

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BOOK REVIEW: Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton

Pandora's StarPandora’s Star (Commonwealth Saga #1)  by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The year is 2380. The Intersolar Commonwealth, a sphere of stars some four hundred light-years in diameter, contains more than six hundred worlds, interconnected by a web of transport “tunnels” known as wormholes. At the farthest edge of the Commonwealth, astronomer Dudley Bose observes the impossible: Over one thousand light-years away, a star… vanishes. It does not go supernova. It does not collapse into a black hole. It simply disappears. Since the location is too distant to reach by wormhole, a faster-than-light starship, the Second Chance, is dispatched to learn what has occurred and whether it represents a threat. In command is Wilson Kime, a five-time rejuvenated ex-NASA pilot whose glory days are centuries behind him.

Opposed to the mission are the Guardians of Selfhood, a cult that believes the human race is being manipulated by an alien entity they call the Starflyer. Bradley Johansson, leader of the Guardians, warns of sabotage, fearing the Starflyer means to use the starship’s mission for its own ends.

Pursued by a Commonwealth special agent convinced the Guardians are crazy but dangerous, Johansson flees. But the danger is not averted. Aboard the Second Chance, Kime wonders if his crew has been infiltrated. Soon enough, he will have other worries. A thousand light-years away, something truly incredible is waiting: a deadly discovery whose unleashing will threaten to destroy the Commonwealth… and humanity itself. Could it be that Johansson was right?

***** *** *******

This is another re-read (about the 4th I think) of a very significant book for me, actually THE book that turned me on to modern space opera. I was given it as a gift some years ago and reading it turned out to be a life-changing experience, in the sci-fi book geek context anyway.

To put it plainly, this book (together with Judas Unchained with which it actually forms one large book) is space opera at it’s best. In here we are introduced to Peter F Hamilton’s beautifully imagined Commonwealth Universe, one which you will get to know very well if you go on to read his later works like the Void Trilogy and the Chronicle of the Fallers duology.

In these pages we become drawn into a huge and fascinating universe of colony planets and alien civilizations of which many are linked together by an incredible network of wormholes. The world building is about as good as it gets and the characters are superb. This storytelling really is next-level, totally absorbing and involving a massive galaxy-spanning conflict that will take your breath away. The scale is so, so vast and just what I’ve come to expect and demand from PFH’s work and space opera in general. This story line would make most epic movie series.

Along with huge servings of high-tech goodies like anti-gravity and wormhole generators there are some mystical and almost fantasy elements such as the humanoid Silfen race with their mysterious ‘paths’ that link together various points in the universe. I found this part utterly fascinating. Then, when things are reaching fever pitch, the book ends abruptly with a really cool cliff-hanger and leaves you scrambling to grab Judas Unchained which picks right up where this book leaves off. Have Judas Unchained handy when you’re close to finishing Pandora’s Star because you’ll most want to keep right on going with the story.

One of my all-time favorite action scenes from anything I’ve ever read (of any fiction genre) comes from this book, where key character Justine Burnelli goes ‘hypergliding’ (which is the coolest imaginable sporting experience) over huge mountains on the planet Far Away. This is quite a significant scene because it’s where Justine meets another character who plays also a prominent role in the series. PFH makes you feel like you’re right in the cockpit for this wild ride. I’ve re-read this passage a number of times.

To summarize, it’s bloody good science fiction with so much wonder and awe to offer along with the complex story lines. Read this if you like large, epic and gritty plots with lots of cool tech, weird and wonderful aliens and ‘real’ characters. If this sounds like you then I doubt you will be disappointed. As you can probably tell I’m a huge fan, and I reckon you might be just about to find out why. I hope you enjoy the journey.

5/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
5/5 for entertainment
= 5 out of 5

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BOOK REVIEW [Repost]: Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster

This book seems to be popping up in conversation quite a bit lately, so here’s a reblog of my earlier review. If you like reading entertaining books, liked the move and have a gap in your reading schedule then I reckon you should give it a go.

The Learned Turtle

Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4.3 of 5 stars

Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2,and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters. Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges.

So return to that galaxy far, far away, and prepare yourself for what happens when the Force awakens. . .
 

***** *** *******

This book was a very pleasant surprise indeed. I’ve given it a good rating simply because it is a whole lot of fun, a supremely entertaining novelization of The Force Awakens that enabled me to experience…

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BOOK REVIEW: Nightmare Planet by Donald S. Rowland

Nightmare PlanetNightmare Planet by Donald S. Rowland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Kyle Barlor is captain aboard the spaceship Voyager on its exploration of the farther reaches of the Universe in a ceaseless hunt for minerals and chemicals badly needed by Earth and its space colonies in the solar system.

With these resources dwindling not just on Earth, but her surrounding colonies, there is little choice but to explore further into deep space. Voyager is nine hundred light years from Earth’s solar system…

Kyle’s mission was to find the Brontus Major Constellation and search it for any metals that may be used. The spearhead through space, carried out by men such as those aboard Voyager, never saw the fruits of their work. They would merely locate the planets containing sufficient metals and then push on to leave the transport freighters to strip them. A seemingly endless mission…

That is, until, an uncharted planetary system appears between them and the Brontus Major Constellation. Why does it not show up on their scanners? And what are the strange missile silos doing around the planetary system? Kyle decides their only course of action is to send out a search party to try to find out what forms of life are there. However, when they lose contact with the search party they realize something must be wrong.

So far from Earth, Kyle Barlor is the only hope of ever returning home for the crew aboard the Voyager, but even he is beginning to feel out of his depth.

***** *** *******

DISCLAIMER: Review copy from NetGalley

It didn’t take me long to suspect that this isn’t a recently written book, the language and style identifying it as an older work, reminding me of Hardy Boys and Biggles books that I read as a kid, just set in space. There are a number of old-school words used like “artificer” (technicians and engineers) and even the other use of “ejaculate” (to utter suddenly and briefly; exclaim) which I’ve not seen used in this context outside much older books. A quick look at the book’s copyright notice confirms that this book was first published in 1976, and more research told me that Donald S. Rowland (his actual name) is a veteran pulp writer who has used 55 pseudonyms to produce a very large number works of various genres. Few of these works have been science fiction which certainly shows through clearly in Nightmare Planet with it’s simple ideas and rather juvenile feel.

Now to the story itself, a short book which, I have to admit, is ably written and generally okay albeit basic in concept. The star-ship Voyager is on a journey with it’s fifty man crew to survey a distant star system for minerals. Earth’s resources of vital metals have become strained and many planets in our solar system and other systems near to Earth have been plundered for these. Survey ships such as Voyager locate the planets and other objects containing sufficient materials to warrant action, then push on to leave the following fleets of mining ships and transports to extract and take away the spoils.

Nine hundred light years out from Earth, yet still some distance from their objective, Voyager encounters a system of a star plus four planets which was previously unknown and mysteriously invisible to their sensors. The captain makes the decision to investigate the system for any mineral or threat potential. They are fired upon by missiles from the surface of the outermost planet which a landing party confirms to be barren and uninhabited. Further investigation detects life forms on the third planet and landing parties are again dispatched to check it out. What they discover there is interesting and becomes rather dicey when they find themselves in quite a spot of bother.

After much dangerous adventure, the remaining members of the landing parties cut their losses and make a hasty retreat back to the Voyager which is parked in orbit above the planet. In the end things conclude in a rather spectacular fashion and the book abruptly finishes without any of the big questions being answered. This was disappointing and quite frustrating, having gone through the detail of the planet-side exploits to be given no reveal or closure at the end. The final words of the book talk about what may lie ahead and it is “a future beyond Barlor’s (Voyager‘s Captain) wildest imagining” so maybe there are more adventures ahead for the Voyager and her crew which will solve some of the puzzles.

The characters are typical for a space ship adventure, with the Captain, his officers such as doctors, scientists, engineers and some security personnel and soldiers. We get to know most of them by name but they have little depth and we learn nothing about them as individual people. It’s a story with a decent amount of action yet gains no real traction with it’s plot or theme which is, again, disappointing.

I’d have probably enjoyed this a whole lot more as an adolescent, which I suspect is the market that this book was originally aimed at given it’s length and style. Maybe a similar audience is still in mind by the current publisher but I reckon that today’s young readers will struggle with it due to it’s dated language, basic theme and unsatisfying conclusion. For this reason I’m curious why the publisher has taken the punt in reintroducing it. Maybe with a reboot it could work, but in it’s current form I can’t see it doing all that well.

1/5 for concept
3/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment
= 2 out of 5

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