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The definition of "space opera" has evolved, much like science fiction has evolved, over the decades that the term has been in use. Way back in the pulp era of the genre, it was commonly attached to the books of E.E. "Doc" Smith and Jack Williamson, whose novels depicted a universe where man had overcome the physical laws of the universe and had almost transcended into godhood, mostly through the use of either some super-science or from the sheer power of the intellect.

russian proton rocket, NASA, public domain02As the pulp era came to a close in the late 1950s though, a more mature and more inward looking type of science fiction came into vogue. The "New Wave", which would last the next couple of decades and would come to encompass such greats as Heinlein and Delany, was an attempt to understand the human condition through introspection as well as our interaction with aliens, although in many cases it turned out that humanity itself was often looking more and more alien all the time.

It wasn't until the late 1980s and early 1990s that space opera began to make a reappearance, although it was not referred to as such. But the works of authors such as David Brin, Dan Simmons and Gregory Benford became the new face of space adventure. The Uplift books, the Hyperion novels and the Galactic Center novels (see list below for titles) were all epic in scope, yet the books had strong characters as well, characters with real motivations and real emotions that tied in with the sometimes overwhelming details of the plots. Space adventure was definitely back in vogue, but this was a more mature, character-driven type of novel.

In the new millennium though, authors such as Alastair Renyolds, Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks have come to the forefront. Their books are truly epic in scope, encompassing vast distances in space and time, yet manage to focus on individual characters enough so that you actually care about whether or not they are going to make it through the book. It is truly the best of the era of pulp fiction, crossed with mature writing of the late 20th century. Space opera, long a derogatory term associated with books that no self-respecting science fiction reader would be seen with, has come into its own, and is making substantial inroads both on the best-seller list as well as on the major awards lists.


Space Opera Science Fiction Books:

Bear, Elizabeth. The Jenny Casey series

  1. Hammered
  2. Scardown
  3. Worldwired

Benford, Gregory.  The Galactic Center series

  1. In The Ocean Of Night
  2. Across The Sea Of Suns
  3. Great Sky River
  4. Tides Of Light
  5. Sailing Bright
  6. Furious Gulf

Brin, David. The Uplift Series

  1. Sundiver
  2. Startide Rising (winner of the 1983 Nebula Award and the 1984 Hugo Award),
  3. The Uplift War
  4. Brightness Reef
  5. Infinityís Shore
  6. Heavenís Reach

Simmons, Dan.  The Hyperion series

  1. Hyperion
  2. The Fall Of Hyperion
  3. Endymion
  4. The Rise Of Endymion