If you are a human being with Internet access, you've probably heard about the upcoming Star Wars movie. And if you're a science-fiction fan, you're probably awaiting its release with a mixture of excitement and nausea. But never fear, there's plenty to read while we wait!
Star Wars is about as classic a space opera as you can get, but it's certainly not alone. Space opera, unlike regular opera, does not usually involve singing or viking helmets — instead, it involves space warfare and melodramatic adventure, set almost entirely in outer space with chivalric romance and guns that shoots lasers. (Both space and regular opera, however, tend to tell stories of great scope and emotion with many silly costumes.)
Space operas range from the hardest of hard-sci-fi, full of exhaustive descriptions of exactly what goes on while traveling at lightspeed, to the softest sci-fi, full of prophecies and chosen ones and furry aliens. All of them have sweeping stories of space adventures and strange new worlds that will make you want to donate half your life's savings to NASA. Star Wars is great and all, but it's only one tiny sliver of the universe of science fiction out there.
So if you're itching to get back to that galaxy far far away, here are some other galaxies to visit while you wait:
1. Ringworld by Larry Niven
It's Louis Wu's 200th birthday, and he's grown bored of life on Earth. So, with his motley crew (a human girl genetically bred to be lucky, a giant, fuzzy, orange cat-monster, and an insane alien called a "puppeteer"), Louis sets out to explore an impossibly huge, mysterious structure in a distant corner of the galaxy. Larry Niven's writing is incredibly inventive, his worlds are immense and wild, and his cast of characters is one of the most fun gang of misfits anywhere in sci-fi.
2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples
If you read one comic book or graphic novel all year, let it be this one. Alana and Marko, a young couple from opposite sides of a galactic war, just want to find safety for themselves and their infant daughter. Unfortunately, as if living with a newborn wasn't hard enough, almost everyone in the universe wants them dead. Their stories intertwine with bounty hunters, escaped slaves, teenaged ghosts, robot princes, and many more as they bounce around from world to world. The artwork is gorgeous, the cast is diverse, and the writing is snappy and original, but be warned: you many read it too quickly and go into withdrawal once it's over.
3. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Breq used to be a colossal starship that controlled vast armies with her artificial intelligence — but now she's left with one measly human body on a cold and distant planet. Ann Leckie's writing is unexpected and compelling, with a new take on old sci-fi tropes. She manages to give you the classic space opera experience of clashing armies on far-off planets while exploring gender and autonomy in a way that still feels relevant to a non-science-fictional world.
4. Dune by Frank Herbert
Sprawling, complex mythologies! Philosophically charged political intrigue! Sand worms! Dune is not a novel for the faint of heart. It's famous for being one of the most intricately detailed works of science fiction, and it fully delivers on that promise. But it's also the classic tale of a young hero (and, in this case, his mother) coming into his own on a strange new world, fraught with danger and deception. A modern epic in every sense of the word.
5. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Earth has been at war with the Buggers for a hundred years, but there's finally an end in sight — a little boy called Ender, whose birth was commissioned by the government. He was born to be a great general, but first he must survive rigorous training at Battle School. He's 6. Ender's Game looks at the repercussions of a war on an interplanetary scale: What does childhood become under such dire circumstances?
6. The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
Little Helva is born human but so deformed that only her brain is deemed useful to society. So her brain is removed and placed in a metal shell, until she is old enough to become the living "brain" of a space ship. Then she'll be partnered with a human "brawn," and sent off to explore the universe. The Ship Who Sang is not an ordinary space opera; it's far shorter, for one thing, and mostly centered on one ship's adventures rather than a galaxy-wide war. But Helva is such a lovable character, and Anne McCaffrey is such a enjoyable writer, that it's well worth the read.
7. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
The Foundation Series is often credited as being, well — the foundation of the space opera genre. Set in the last years of a dying empire, Isaac Asimov's famous series follows Hari Seldon, creator of a science called "psychohistory," as he tries to scrape together the last hope for humanity. He can see that the future holds years of darkness — unless he can keep his sanctuary alive.
8. Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh
Thousands of years in the future, space is not being explored by governments but by Earth Company, a private (and very, very wealthy) corporation. However, Earth's policies are out-of-touch, and the company has lost control of some of its more far-flung colonies, leading to full-on rebellion. It's a book about wars in space, yes, but with a focus on the people at stake and the reality of life in close-quarters on a space station.
9. Dawn by Octavia Butler
Not a traditional space opera, but a strange and beautiful piece all the same. If you love science fiction and you've never run across Octavia Butler, consider this your formal invitation. Dawn is the story of an alien apocalypse in which the aliens are the saviors — they have rescued the remaining members of humanity from a dying Earth, cured cancer, healed the world, and now they are ready to return humans to their home planet... for a price.
Images: Walt Disney Company, Giphy