From Book Riot: 25 of the Best Space Operas. Okay, sure, I’ll bite. Let’s see if my picks are on here:
Nine Fox Gambit is the first book on the list. You know, I really do need to read this one of these days.
Dawn, by Octavia E Butler. And I’m immediately unimpressed with this list. Are you kidding me? In what possible sense is Dawn a space opera?
Let me back up and see what criteria were used to select works for this list … ah, look, there are no actual criteria listed. This is as close as the post comes:
Space opera novels are so full of luscious world-building, all-around action, and very interesting characters.
That may be so, but as a way of delineating space opera, no way. Good lord above, historical novels could just as well fit these criteria! What a — sorry — totally lazy way to build a list of 25 best anything: don’t bother actually considering what defines the subgenre you named, just throw any SF novel that suits you right on in there. That’s ridiculous.
Here’s the definition that immediately comes to mind for me:
Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes action and adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, usually involving space ships and weaponry on about the level of Star Trek’s Enterprise. It blurs at one edge into military SF and at the other into epic SF.
Here’s a tor.com column about space opera. Here’s their definition:
“Colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”
Sure, I could see that. I don’t think “competently and often beautifully written” is at all necessary as part of the definition; that’s a defensive reaction to the knee-jerk assumption that space opera is usually badly written. The emphasis on a sympathetic, heroic central character is probably common, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The plot action is necessary. The optimistic tone, yes, I could agree with that. I’d include that in my definition. “Relatively distant future,” no. The level of technology is a lot more important than the timing. Get too far into hyper-advanced tech and you lose the space opera feel, no matter how close or distant the setting is supposed to be.
There are a handful of selections from the Book Riot post I’d select for a list of space operas:
The Vorkosigan books and related novels by LMB
The Ky Vatta series by Elizabeth Moon, though starting with Cold Welcome is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy.
Barbary Station by RE Stearns. I haven’t read it, but at least it sure looks like space opera.
The rest of theirs, I know nothing about or I don’t think are remotely space opera. Here are some others that I think are clearly space operas:
The Lensman series by EE Doc Smith
Agent of Change and other Tree-and-Dragon novels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and others by Becky Chambers
And a zillion others, no doubt, that either I’m not thinking of right this minute or that are arguable. For example, Ancillary Justice. Yes or no for that series? I lean toward no, call that one epic, but I could absolutely be persuaded otherwise.