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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Best modern space operas?

   
Author Topic: Best modern space operas?
Tuukka
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Okay, so I'm starting to struggle a bit with finding interesting modern space opera. I want: 1) Good old sense of wonder. 2) Strong characterizations. 3) Exciting & adventurous plots. 4) Wit. 5) Elegant writing style. Most of modern space opera lacks at least one of those elements, usually several.

Of course different people define modern space opera in different ways, but I'm generally talking about books written since the early 80's.

Novels like:

- Hyperion 1 & 2 and Olympos & Ilium from Dan Simmons. I loved these. I've read pretty much everything from Simmons.

- The Culture series from Iain M. Banks. Again, I love the best ones in the series, and I enjoy all of them. I've read all of Bank's scifi novels.

- The Enderverse from Orson Scott Card. I loved Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, enjoyed the rest.

- Zones Of Thought series from Vernor Vinge. Really liked the first two, haven't yet read the 3rd one due to lackluster reviews. I've also read the Bubble series, which was good.

I've read almost all novels from those writers, and I'm familiar with their work. I've also read the following writers/novels, which I didn't quite love to same degree:

- Revelation Space series from Alastair Reynolds. These were interesting and ambitious, but to me Reynolds is just good, not great. He isn't a kind of natural storyteller as Simmons, Banks, etc. I've also read many of his other books.

- Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. Despite some clunky writing, this started out interesting, but became a meandering mess before the first book was over. I've also tried the Hamilton's Greg Mander series, but he isn't a particularly strong writer.

- Works of Stephen Baxter. Baxter is capable of greatness, and has huge ambition, but he often sacrifices the humanity and "relatibility" of his stories for the grand scope of his scifi concepts. So he's not a personal favorite, even if I often find him impressive on some levels.

What other, *excellent* modern space opera is there? I have to admit, I'm a bit picky nowadays. I kinda expect greatness both in terms of art and entertainment. I want to read virtuoso scifi writers. Anything less, and I can get bored.

I've considered reading Jack McDevitt's Academy series and Alex Benedict series. Are they any good compared to Simmons, Banks and Card?

Any other suggestions?

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Destineer
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Sounds like we have similar tastes. [Smile]

Some recommendations you might not have heard:

Samuel Delany, Nova -- older, but also ahead of its time. Definitely a spiritual precursor to Hyperion in many ways.

Michael Swanwick, Stations of the Tide -- mostly takes place on one planet, but otherwise fits the bill, and it's completely brilliant.

M. John Harrison, Light -- a difficult read, but with many strengths.

William Barton, When We Were Real -- obscure book, very intense, there is some brutal stuff in here that shocked me deeply.

A.A. Attanasio, The Last Legends of Earth -- breathtaking 80s new agey novel with a very epic scope. If you like this, his earlier novel Radix is perhaps even better (but not as purely categorizable as space opera). Besides those two, I've never found his other work to be worth the time.

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Destineer
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I would also look to shorter works, there are some real gems to be found there. In particular, if you've never read a novella by Tony Daniel called "A Dry, Quiet War," you should immediately track it down. It's the best short work of SF I've ever read. Barton also has an excellent novella called "Heart of Glass" set in the same setting as the novel of his I recommended.

The anthologies New Space Opera 1 and 2 edited by Dozois and (if I remember right) Strahan contain many strong stories as well.

ETA: Robert Reed's short fiction is often space opera of the highest quality. "Sister Alice" and its many sequel stories are especially good.

[ September 02, 2012, 12:39 AM: Message edited by: Destineer ]

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Destineer
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Also, there's Greg Bear. He can be hit or miss, but Anvil of Stars is an amazing hit.

There are also a couple of excellent, excellent novels with a "post-colonial" theme set on human-held alien worlds. Girl In Landscape by Jonathan Lethem and Celestis by Paul Park. Both are very good, but the Lethem is especially outstanding and succeeds on every level (including being a page-turner and a nice quick read).

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Tuukka
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Excellent suggestions, I haven't even heard of most of these.

I did read Harrison's Light, which was for me perhaps a bit too "literate" and lacking in the pulpy entertainment aspect, which I also want.

I've also read Robert Reed's Marrow, which was good, but I haven't tried his short fiction yet. Marrow was a bit on the hard Clarke/Baxter side of scifi, not so space-opera like.

Planet-based suggestions are also welcome to me, as long as they otherwise fit the the characteristics of a space opera.

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dkw
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The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey is 1) excellent space opera and 2) written by a former Hatracker. Number 1 is more important, though. The first book in the series is Leviathan Wakes.
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Destineer
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That's the one based on a roleplaying campaign, right? Someone in the U Michigan sci fi reading group recommended it to me, completely independently. I'll have to check it out.

quote:

I did read Harrison's Light, which was for me perhaps a bit too "literate" and lacking in the pulpy entertainment aspect, which I also want.

In that case, the Paul Park book I recommended might not be ideal for you.

Another thing I just thought of is Brin's Uplift series (probably a recommendation you've gotten before). Startide Rising is the best one, and for a lot of people the only one that really has the magic.

The thing I would really underscore, for anyone interested in space opera, is the Tony Daniel short story. It doesn't take long to read and it's as good as any novel.

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Ron Lambert
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David Weber's Honor Harrington series is into 13 or 14 novels now, plus a few corollary spin-offs. They are outstanding space opera and military SyFy. All the Honor Harrington novels have been best-sellers. I have read the whole series through twice already, with great enjoyment. The novels feature a really strong heroine who yet has deep emotions. You have to love her treecat, Nimitz, and the way he becomes more and more important as the series progresses. Not only is Nimitz a telepath among his own people, he is an empath with humans, and this latter ability eventually rubs off on Honor, so she becomes empathic too, and for instance can tell if someone is being truthful, or is about to turn violent. Then she gets someone to teach Nimitz sign language, and it really gets interesting.
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King of Men
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I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Bujold's Vorkosigan saga yet.

The Harrington series starts out well, but the later books are at least twice the thickness they need to be; the ratio of expository engine to stuff-blowing-up payload becomes rather large. Ok, I grant that you can only blow up a spaceship so many ways, but still. Weber should stick to his strengths. Diplomacy, politics, and foreign policy are not among them.

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Blayne Bradley
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If your willing to also watch some stuff I got some good anime I could suggest:

Starship Operators: Kinda weak characterization wise but very strong in the Hard Science fiction, it actually has the only realistic use of space stealth to date in the visual sci fi medium and ranks up there on the Moh's scale of sci fi hardness.

Planetes: Haven't seen it yet, also hard scifi since it sticks to near earth orbit the entire time collecting space junk.

Infinite Ryvius: Lord of the Flies meets Hunt for the Red October, experimental living starship (think Moiya from Farscape) with a bunch of trainee's (teenagers) are on the run because their own government thinks they're insurrectionists due to some conspiracy. Reminds me a lot like the Pilot mini-series of Battlestar Galactica which I felt was the best part of BSG before it got all weird and lacked all narrative cohesion.

Bodacious Space Pirates: Still on the hard end of Scifi but very much a good space opera, it tends to focus on the characters and clever James Kirk like schemes to solve problems then blasting it Janeway style out of the sky. The animators also show remarkable restraint and avoid all of the typical pandering modern anime likes to do.

Space Brothers: Kinda feels like a NASA recruiting ad at times but its really good character driven story with a lot of charm. If your a fan of Apollo 11 you'll like this. Two brothers, one promised he would go to the moon, so the older brother promised to one up him and go to Mars. Fast forward and the older brother is having a hard life and just got fired for head butting his superior in his car design job, while the younger one is a JAXA astronaught. So the Older brother Nanba Mutta has one last shot to get in to make do on his promise to go to Mars.

Really good.

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tern
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The Deathstalker Series by Simon R. Green.
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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by dkw:
The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey is 1) excellent space opera and 2) written by a former Hatracker. Number 1 is more important, though. The first book in the series is Leviathan Wakes.

I read the first book, and it was excellent. I'll be buying the second one soon.

I also really like this series. by Debra Doyle. Her Mageworlds series is fun, well written, and create an interesting world.

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T:man
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quote:
Originally posted by Blayne Bradley:


Planetes: Haven't seen it yet, also hard scifi since it sticks to near earth orbit the entire time collecting space junk.


Planetes is amazing, anyone into any sci-fi should check it out.


I haven't really read many space opera's how is the genre defined?

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King of Men
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Space opera, as the name suggests, consists of stories that take place in space, in which the characters interact by singing long arias. Since, in space, nobody can hear you sing, this means that the action is often rather difficult to follow, at least for the un-initiated. That doesn't at all bother the target demographic, former fans of regular opera; they never understood all that French, Italian, and German gibble-gabble anyway, and are pleased as punch to be able to watch a high-class pastime like opera without some fat soprano reaching for the high C every two minutes. (Well, to be more accurate, the sopranos can reach for whatever C they like, but nobody will hear.) I predict that the next innovation will be to set the action in the center of a sun, or in the depths of a gas planet, so that eyes will be as useless as ears; then one can in good conscience go do something else, while still truthfully claiming to have 'seen' (perhaps someone will invent a new verb, here) the latest part of the Whatevrioid Cycle.
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rivka
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*chuckle*
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Architraz Warden
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Series I loved but haven't been mentioned here yet.

The Gap Series by Stephen R. Donaldson (Fair warning, Donaldson tends to not shy away from unpleasantness in his books, but an amazing series.) Reminds me more than a little of Correy's Expanse series, just without a good guy.

The Heechee Saga (starting with Gateway), by Frederick Pohl. Gateway is an amazing stand alone book, but some of the ideas introduced in the later books still intruige me.

The Sten Series, by Alan Cole and Chris Bunch. Probably my favorite sci-fi series of all times... I loved the universe they built (and was built with plot and narrative, not exposition), and the action sequences are simply spectacular. For me, this series is exactly what Space Opera should be.

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advice for robots
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I disagree with Tuuka about Alastair Reynolds. I think he's an excellent writer and his space opera has better, warmer character development than much of the hard sci-fi market has. I've read and thoroughly enjoyed just about all of the books I can find by him (I still have a couple I haven't read). I haven't been disappointed yet.

I'm still trying to decide whether David Feintuch's Seafort saga is worth recommending. I read the first few many years ago and enjoyed them because they were page-turners, but I don't remember the details well enough to say if they were treasure or trash in my current estimation.

Oh, and Michael Flynn's January Dancer series is well worth checking out.

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Destineer
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
I disagree with Tuuka about Alastair Reynolds. I think he's an excellent writer and his space opera has better, warmer character development than much of the hard sci-fi market has. I've read and thoroughly enjoyed just about all of the books I can find by him (I still have a couple I haven't read). I haven't been disappointed yet.

Really? I've only read Revelation Space, but I was struck by the fact that there was essentially no personal interaction between Dan Sylveste and the woman he marries. She starts interviewing him about his political situation, a chapter goes by without any interaction between them, and then they announce that they're getting married. I was like, WTF?
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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
I disagree with Tuuka about Alastair Reynolds. I think he's an excellent writer and his space opera has better, warmer character development than much of the hard sci-fi market has. I've read and thoroughly enjoyed just about all of the books I can find by him (I still have a couple I haven't read). I haven't been disappointed yet.

Saying that he has better and warmer character development than much of hard scifi, is faint praise, as it's not exactly a genre known for its character work.

But anyway, I made a direct comparison to Simmons and Banks. Reynolds tries, but IMHO doesn't quite have that kind of talent for building up memorable characters, that you live and breathe with. His writing also lacks the elegance that the two other have.

Reynolds writes some great short fiction, and is consistently solid in his longer novels. But I don't think he has written anything on the level of, say, Hyperion, Use Of Weapons or Ender's Game.

Just a personal preference. But I would certainly recommend everyone to check out his writings, and he is one of the more profilic names on modern scifi.

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advice for robots
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I'd rephrase what I said, maybe: in a genre that seriously lacks character development, Reynolds is a happy exception. Although it's true that he hasn't carried any memorable characters through enough novels to give them lives of their own. Dan Sylveste isn't a great character, IMO, although he carries the Revelation Space trilogy. But books like Century Rain, Chasm City, House of Suns, and Terminal World all have some pretty decent characterization.

I like Banks as well, by the way. I also like Simmons' Hyperion novels, although I don't classify them quite with the hard sci-fi of Reynolds, Banks, and Hamilton.

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Destineer
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Interesting that you classify Banks with hard sci fi rather than lump him in with Simmons. While Banks's science has fewer fantasy-inspired elements than Simmons's, I would say it's no less made-up.

quote:
But books like Century Rain, Chasm City, House of Suns, and Terminal World all have some pretty decent characterization.
If you were to recommend one of those to try, which would it be?

I want to like Reynolds's novels. I've loved some of his shorts, especially "Minla's Flowers" and "Merlin's Gun."

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Stephan
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Great thread! Adding a whole bunch of these to my wishlist on Audible.
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Kwea
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I recommended Doyle's series, then while looking at my own link I found she has written 3 more than I didn't read yet. [Big Grin]

Happy me!

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advice for robots
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Hmmm. House of Suns, I suppose, especially because of the awesome ending, but also because of all the imaginative elements Reynolds has in play throughout the book.

I guess with Banks and hard sci fi I'm thinking in terms of The Algebraist (although yeah, even that isn't completely grounded in What Could Work).

Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep was mentioned above, and I want to put a plug in for that one. Great book. The sequel, Children of the Sky, is set entirely on the Tines world and is IMO pretty disappointing as a follow up. It's rambling and confusing.

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Darth_Mauve
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@Sarcasticrover on Twitter. Its about the Rover on Mars, and he's more of a drama queen than any soap opera star so that kind of fits....well not really.

Nevermind.

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Unmaker
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There's also D'Angelo Chronicles by David Bowles, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

I second Corey's The Expanse and Donaldson's Gap Cycle. Amazing stuff.

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Destineer
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quote:
Originally posted by Unmaker:
There's also D'Angelo Chronicles by David Bowles, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Yeah, I guess your novel does fit the category! Is the whole series out now? I certainly enjoyed The Blue-Spangled Blue. It's a very rich setting you've created.
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Thesifer
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A note on Iain M. Banks:

"The Hydrogen Sonata" is coming out October 9th, if you haven't noticed it yet. Another Culture Series novel.

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