The Greatest "Space Opera, Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 305 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Space Opera

Space Opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. These narratives are characterized by their grand scale and dramatic stakes, focusing on epic battles, intricate politics, and explorations of futuristic societies. Unlike hard science fiction, which prioritizes scientific accuracy and technical detail, Space Opera leans towards the fantastical, with stories that feature heroic characters, expansive world-building, and complex, often morally ambiguous conflicts. This genre is akin to the swashbuckling tales of high adventure, transposed onto a cosmic backdrop, offering readers escapades among the stars, where the bounds of imagination are the only limits.


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  1. 1. Hyperion by Dan Simmons

    The book is a science fiction narrative that weaves together the tales of seven pilgrims as they journey to the distant world of Hyperion on the eve of interstellar war. Each pilgrim has their own reason for undertaking this pilgrimage to the Shrike, a mysterious and feared creature that resides in the Time Tombs, which are moving backwards through time. As they travel, they share their stories, revealing personal quests, humanity's complex relationship with technology, and the overarching mystery of the Shrike and Hyperion itself. The novel combines elements of space opera with a frame story structure reminiscent of "The Canterbury Tales," exploring themes of love, religion, politics, and art, all set against the backdrop of an impending catastrophe.

    The 1016th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks

    "Consider Phlebas" is a science fiction novel set in a vast and chaotic universe where different civilizations and species clash. The story follows a protagonist named Bora Horza Gobuchul, a shape-shifting mercenary who becomes entangled in a dangerous mission to retrieve a powerful artifact from a religious cult. As Horza navigates treacherous alliances and battles, he also grapples with questions of identity, loyalty, and the nature of humanity. With its epic scope and thought-provoking themes, the novel explores the complexities of war, morality, and the search for meaning in a universe teetering on the brink of destruction.

    The 2295th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. Use Of Weapons by Iain Banks

    "Use of Weapons" is a gripping science fiction novel that follows the life of a skilled and enigmatic mercenary named Cheradenine Zakalwe. The story alternates between two timelines, exploring Zakalwe's dangerous missions and his troubled past. As the narrative unfolds, secrets are revealed, and the true nature of Zakalwe's character is gradually unveiled, leading to a shocking and thought-provoking conclusion. With its intricate plot, complex characters, and philosophical undertones, this book offers a thrilling and introspective exploration of war, morality, and the human condition.

    The 3007th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

    In a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, tensions rise between Earth, Mars, and the Belt, a region of space where resources are mined. The story follows a weary detective and an idealistic ship's officer who become embroiled in a vast conspiracy after a distress signal from a missing young woman leads them to a derelict spaceship and a potentially lethal alien life form. As the political situation deteriorates, they must navigate through the intricacies of interplanetary intrigue, terrorism, and an impending war, all while trying to prevent the spread of an extraterrestrial virus that threatens all of human civilization.

    The 6423rd Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. Moreta by Anne McCaffrey

    In a world where telepathic dragons and their riders protect the populace from threadfall, a virulent plague threatens to decimate both human and dragonkind. The novel follows Moreta, one of the dragon riders, as she races against time to find a cure and orchestrate a daring plan to save her world. As the epidemic spreads, Moreta must navigate the intricate politics of her society and the limitations of her own mortality, culminating in a desperate act of heroism that solidifies her place in the annals of her world's history.

    The 6539th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

    "Binti" is a science fiction novella that follows the journey of a young Himba girl named Binti, who defies her family's wishes and leaves her home to attend the prestigious Oomza University. As the first of her people to be accepted, Binti faces various challenges and cultural clashes as she navigates the complexities of interstellar travel and encounters an alien race known as the Meduse. Through her unique abilities and determination, Binti becomes a bridge between two civilizations, ultimately transforming her own identity and challenging societal norms.

    The 6640th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. Nerilka's Story by Anne McCaffrey

    Set in the universe of Pern, "Nerilka's Story" follows the tale of a young woman from a noble family who is disillusioned with her father's apathy towards a devastating plague. After her family's refusal to aid the suffering population, she takes matters into her own hands, assuming a false identity to distribute medicine and supplies to those in need. Along her journey, she faces challenges and finds herself in the midst of political intrigue, personal growth, and unexpected romance. The story is a testament to courage, compassion, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

    The 6648th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Foundation And Earth by Isaac Asimov

    In this science fiction novel, the continuation of an epic saga, the protagonist seeks the origins of humanity to save a vast galactic civilization. Journeying from world to world, the quest leads to the discovery of a planet called Earth, long shrouded in mystery and legend. Alongside complex characters and artificial intelligences, the narrative explores themes of power, history, and the search for a greater understanding of humanity's place in the cosmos. The story weaves together strands of politics, philosophy, and the future of human evolution, culminating in a profound revelation about the interconnected fate of the galaxy's myriad inhabitants and societies.

    The 6648th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

    In this science fiction retelling of a classic fairy tale, a young woman with telepathic abilities must navigate a complex interstellar society ruled by a powerful and enigmatic figure known as the Snow Queen. The protagonist's journey is one of self-discovery and rebellion as she seeks to rescue her beloved, who has been ensnared by the Snow Queen's influence. Set against a backdrop of political intrigue, ecological concerns, and the cyclical nature of change, the story explores themes of love, identity, and the struggle for freedom within a universe where technology and ancient myth intertwine.

    The 6713th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey

    In this science fiction novel, a group of colonists from Earth seek to establish a new society on the distant planet of Pern. As they struggle to adapt to their new environment, they are unprepared for the deadly Thread falling from the sky, which destroys all organic matter it touches. The colonists' survival depends on genetically engineered dragons, created from native lifeforms, which can burn the Thread out of the sky with their fiery breath. The bond between the dragons and their human riders becomes the cornerstone of Pernese society, as they work together to defend their home against the periodic onslaughts. The novel explores themes of pioneering, human ingenuity, and the forging of a symbiotic relationship between humans and dragons in the face of adversity.

    The 6733rd Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

    In this science fiction novel, a young military officer graduates from the academy and is assigned to a remote arctic base, where his leadership skills are quickly put to the test. After navigating the complexities of his first command, he becomes embroiled in a dangerous interstellar mission involving a runaway prince, a space mercenary fleet, and a mysterious space station. As he maneuvers through political intrigue and military strategy, he must use his wits and resourcefulness to prevent an escalating conflict that threatens the balance of power in the galaxy.

    The 6891st Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. Children Of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

    "Children of Time" by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a science fiction novel that explores the evolution of two species, humans and spiders, on different planets. When Earth faces destruction, a group of humans embarks on a mission to terraform a new planet and create a new civilization. However, an experiment involving a virus meant to accelerate the evolution of monkeys goes wrong, leading to the unintended uplift of spiders. The story follows the parallel development of both species, highlighting their struggles, conflicts, and eventual convergence as they vie for dominance in a rapidly changing world.

    The 6924th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

    In this sequel to a science fiction saga, the story continues as a group of pilgrims trapped on the planet Hyperion face the looming threat of the Time Tombs, which are traveling backward through time. Meanwhile, the interstellar Hegemony they once belonged to is on the brink of war with the Ousters, a group of spacefaring barbarians. As the complex political machinations unfold, the pilgrims' personal tales intertwine with the fate of the universe, revealing their connections to the mysterious Shrike—a creature that may hold the key to humanity's salvation or its ultimate destruction. The narrative weaves together multiple timelines and perspectives, exploring themes of memory, destiny, and the nature of intelligence.

    The 7017th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

    In this science fiction narrative, the story revolves around an engineer who is assigned to a space station where genetically engineered humans, designed with four arms and no legs for zero-gravity work, are being bred by a corporation for economic gain. When the company decides to abandon the project, viewing these beings, known as "quaddies," as obsolete and a liability, the engineer faces a moral dilemma. He must choose between his own safety and career or the welfare of the quaddies. Ultimately, he decides to rebel against the corporation, leading a daring escape plan to save the quaddies from being decommissioned and to find them a new home where they can live free.

    The 7018th Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. Forward The Foundation by Isaac Asimov

    The book is a science fiction novel that serves as a prequel to a renowned series, chronicling the life of a brilliant mathematician who develops a revolutionary theory of predicting the future on a large scale. Set against the backdrop of a decaying Galactic Empire, the protagonist works to refine his psychohistorical method in hopes of reducing the period of chaos and barbarism predicted to follow the Empire's inevitable fall. The narrative weaves through political intrigue, personal tragedy, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge, as the protagonist and his colleagues lay the groundwork for a foundation designed to preserve and expand human knowledge, and to serve as a beacon for a future enlightened civilization.

    The 7093rd Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. The Chronicles Of Pern: First Fall by Anne McCaffrey

    In this collection of novellas set within a richly detailed science fiction world, human colonists on the planet Pern face unexpected challenges as they adapt to their new home. The book chronicles the earliest days of the settlement, including the discovery of the deadly Thread which periodically rains from the sky, decimating all organic matter it touches. The settlers must band together, forging a symbiotic relationship with the native dragon-like creatures to combat this threat. As they struggle to survive and maintain their technology-dependent lifestyle, they lay the foundation for the unique society that will define future generations on Pern.

    The 7093rd Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. The Uplift War by David Brin

    In a science fiction universe where a galactic civilization is built on the patronage and "uplift" of pre-sentient species into intelligence, a human colony on a distant planet finds itself embroiled in an interstellar war. The planet's inhabitants, including humans, their uplifted chimpanzee allies, and other indigenous species, must navigate the complex politics and military strategies of various alien races. As they struggle to defend their home and assert their place in the cosmos, they uncover deeper mysteries about the origins of intelligence and the true nature of uplift, challenging the established order of their star-spanning society.

    The 7159th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. The Lone Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

    In this character-driven space opera, a diverse crew aboard a tunneling spaceship embarks on a treacherous mission to punch wormholes through the far reaches of the galaxy. As they journey to a distant planet fraught with conflict, the crew members—each with their own unique backgrounds, species, and perspectives—navigate the complexities of their interpersonal relationships, cultural differences, and personal struggles. The narrative delves into themes of friendship, family, and acceptance, painting a vivid picture of life in a vast, multicultural cosmos where the vastness of space is matched only by the depth of individual experiences and the bonds that form in the most unlikely of circumstances.

    The 7867th Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

    In this science fiction novel, a woman finds herself navigating the complex political landscape of a recently rediscovered planet with a feudal society. As the wife of the Regent, she must protect her unborn child from various threats, including a deadly political coup. With her quick wit and strategic mind, she allies with a network of loyalists to safeguard the future of the planet's monarchy and ensure the safety of her family. The story is a rich tapestry of intrigue, honor, and the challenges of adapting to a new world while facing the machinations of power-hungry adversaries.

    The 8061st Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. Old Man's War by John Scalzi

    In this science fiction novel, elderly citizens of Earth are given a chance to join an interstellar army, trading their decrepit bodies for rejuvenated, genetically enhanced versions to fight in a seemingly endless war across the galaxy. The protagonist, a widower who enlists on his 75th birthday, navigates the complexities of his new existence, including the physical and emotional challenges of being young again, the camaraderie and loss within the ranks, and the ethical quandaries posed by the conflict with various alien species. As he rises through the military's ranks, he confronts the harsh realities of this expansive and deadly cosmic battlefield.

    The 8103rd Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

    The novel concludes a trilogy that chronicles the colonization and terraforming of Mars, exploring the complex interactions between politics, science, and ecology in the process. As the Martian society stabilizes after a period of revolution and unrest, the inhabitants of the red planet grapple with the long-term implications of their transformation, both for their own society and their relationship with Earth. The narrative delves into the lives of the colonists who have become the first Martians, addressing themes of longevity, environmental responsibility, and the quest for a sustainable future for humanity across two worlds. With a backdrop of a vividly imagined Martian landscape, the story reflects on the human capacity for adaptation and the ethical dimensions of altering an entire planet's ecosystem.

    The 8113th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

    In a universe where necromancers hold power, Gideon, a skilled swordswoman, is reluctantly paired with her childhood rival, Harrow, to compete in a deadly trial that could grant them immortality. As they venture into an ancient, decaying mansion filled with secrets and puzzles, they must unravel the mysteries of their world and face sinister forces lurking within. With a blend of dark humor, complex characters, and a gripping plot, "Gideon The Ninth" is a thrilling and unique blend of science fiction and fantasy.

    The 8150th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. Heir To The Empire by Timothy Zahn

    Set five years after the fall of the Galactic Empire, the book follows the New Republic as it struggles to maintain peace in the galaxy. The remnants of the Empire, under the strategic command of Grand Admiral Thrawn, are regrouping and pose a new threat. Thrawn's tactical genius and his discovery of a hidden cache of Emperor Palpatine's warships give him the tools to challenge the New Republic. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo face personal challenges and the burden of leadership as they fight to protect the fledgling democracy from both external and internal turmoil. The story weaves a complex tapestry of intrigue, betrayal, and battles, setting the stage for a new chapter in the Star Wars saga.

    The 8201st Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh

    Set in the midst of interstellar conflict, the novel unfolds against the backdrop of a space station that serves as a key strategic asset in the war between Earth and its far-flung colonial star systems. As the station, located above the planet Pell, becomes a refuge for people fleeing the war-torn sectors of space, tensions rise among the station's inhabitants, the Earth forces, and the various alien species seeking sanctuary. The station's leaders must navigate a complex web of political intrigue, shifting alliances, and ethical dilemmas to maintain order and ensure the survival of Pell's inhabitants, all while the specter of a larger cosmic battle looms overhead.

    The 8566th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. The Many Coloured Land by Julian May

    In a future where time travel is possible, a group of misfits from different eras are recruited to journey back to prehistoric Earth. As they navigate the dangers of this ancient world, they discover that they possess unique psychic abilities. With conflicts arising among themselves and encounters with other time-traveling factions, they must learn to harness their powers and survive the perils of the past. This captivating science fiction novel explores themes of identity, adventure, and the complexities of human relationships.

    The 8568th Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!


If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.