55 Essential Space Operas from the Last 70 Years


Source: Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantsasy Blog

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: 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: Forsaken Skies (The Silence #1) by D. Nolan Clark

Forsaken Skies (The Silence, #1)Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark
My rating: 4.7 of 5 stars

Sometimes the few must stand against the many.

After centuries of devastating interplanetary civil war, mankind has found a time of relative peace. That peace is shattered when an unknown armada emerges from the dark void of space, targeting a remote colony planet which is the home for a group of people distancing themselves from mankind and pursuing a path of piety and peace. As the colonists plead for help, the politicians and bureaucrats look away.

If they have any chance at survival a disparate group of pilots must come together to fight back any way they can. But battle-scarred Commander Aleister Lanoe will not abandon thousands of innocents to their fate.

Forsaken Skies is the explosive first novel from D. Nolan  Clark, an epic tale of a fight against the odds – and the terror of realizing that we’re no longer alone in the cold vacuum of space.

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

From the first moment I saw it, this book grabbed hold of my attention. This is the first part of a series (three books announced so far) called The Silence and I’d classify it as space opera with a definite military sci-fi vibe and a good dose of hard sci-fi. I think it’s a very well-balanced mix that many fans of these genres will enjoy. It’s quite long but is wonderfully easy to read and the story kept me engaged easily, not exactly on the edge of the seat, but firmly locked in nonetheless.

Set some hundreds of years in the future, humankind has spread far and wide using a vast network of wormholes to cover huge distances, many light years at a time. The vastness of space is controlled and funded by huge corporations who exploit the resources of the planets and asteroids. There’s been lots of conflict between their private armies as well as against the governing military forces who tend to side with whoever they think is the best political choice. The remote colony planet Niraya has a small population of mostly religious idealists and prospectors and is attacked by mysterious aliens. The company who owns and controls it decides it would be too expensive to defend and decides to cut it’s losses and abandons it. A pair of religious zealots from Niraya make their way to a central space station in an attempt to contract the services of the military to fight the invaders. Through an exciting series of events, Commander Aleister Lanoe, an ageing but highly decorated Navy fighter pilot, hears about the Nirayan situation and chooses to help. He puts together a rather ragtag team of former Navy squad mates and associates to fight the alien invasion. What follows is a fine adventure.

The author (well-known horror author David Wellington using a pseudonym) says: “Ever since I saw Star Wars as a child…why I wanted to write in the first place…my whole life and career was leading me to write this book” (see interview HERE). Well, he’s done a bloody good job of it, I must say. You can sense the Star Wars influence in there, from the vastness of galactic society to the full-on space war. Just on that, I did find some the big main battle a little bit long and began to tire of it before it’s conclusion. However, I often say that so I guess big battles are just not my thing, but if they’re yours then you’re probably going to love the shooting and explosions in this. There’s lots of them!

The character depth is great by my standards, not too much but still enough to be able to make a firm decision whether you like them or not, each character having at least one unique quality about them that you will either love or dislike. I found myself liking most of them and able to identify with all of them to some degree. There are some slight romantic interests between a few of the characters, but these aren’t dominant yet play an important part in events. Once again, a good balance for a reader like me.

The world building is top notch, I enjoyed hugely the descriptions of the planets, moons, vehicles and space stations along with the wormholes that link them all together. A particular favorite of mine is the Navy headquarters planet with it’s Saturn-like rings which are actually artificial, formed of countless stations, habitats and orbitals. Awesome stuff, tickling my sense of awe that is one of the major keys to good science fiction for me. The eventual reveal of the alien invaders which comes late in the book is fascinating and hints at some real interesting things in book two (due late April 2017).

Overall it’s a wonderfully satisfying book, a great action story and setup for what I hope is an equally satisfying series. I’m glad the author decided to try his hand at producing science fiction because he’s very good at it.

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

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