What’s the Most Underrated Space Opera Novel?

James Keith wrote in with a poll suggestion: What’s the most underrated Space Opera novel?

(He actually asked about the last 10 years, but I don’t want to be that restrictive…yet. Just in case anyone wants to toss in an Edmond Hamilton novel.)

What a great topic! However, I could use some help in compiling the list of choices…

Sound off!

By way of clarification, I’ll point you to my review of The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer where I say that the definition of space opera is quite large. Feel free to use your own definition.

14 thoughts on “What’s the Most Underrated Space Opera Novel?”

  1. By underrated I take it you mean not “celebrated” like the works of Reynolds and Banks. Three come to mind (but whether they satisfactorily meet the definition of “Space Opera” is debatable). They are:

    Evolution’s Darling by Scott Westerfeld

    Light by M. John Harrison

    Natural History by Justina Robson

  2. Since you mentioned Ed Hamilton…

    Hamilton wrote a short series of novels for Ace in the late 60’s: the Starwolf series. I remember them as spare, colorful, and full of adventure and wonder, and some degree of moral nuance. At nearly the same time, Leigh Brackett published the Skaith trilogy. which could best be described as “space opera noir.”

    The SF world was looking elsewhere in those days. Space opera was passé, Hamilton was an embarrassment, Brackett a relic, etc.

    I believe these books were unfairly overlooked.

  3. I’d have to go with the Heritage Universe books by Charles Sheffield, primarily because in my 30+ years of voraciously devouring SF I had never heard of them until last month.

    I’d also vote for the original Barbarella comic, which was packed with freakish Grant Morrison-esque ideas.

    Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison actually was a more enjoyable space opera than most of the works it parodied.

  4. Many of the authors/books listed above are fine examples of Space Opera. However, they don’t meet the ‘last 10 years’ criteria, being older than that. Well, several above anyway.

    Trying to peg ‘underrated’ is difficult. Although, I’d have to say any of the Culture novels by Banks aren’t underrated. That being said, here are my suggestions:

    Echoes Of Earth Series – Shane Dix and Sean Williams

    The Saga Of The Seven Suns – Kevin J. Anderson

    The Risen Empire – Scott Westerfeld

    The Coyote Rising Series – (Big) Allen Steele

  5. JP, I lifted the 10-year retirement after we talked (and after I originally posted). I figured if we get too many options, we could limit it by age. (H)

  6. It’s hard to know what underrated means, but as space opera books/series that are not better known but I thought quite good I would add:

    – John Meaney – Paradox, Context, Resolution (I still rate Paradox as one of the top all time books I’ve read and based on that I buy anything that John Meaney puts out, including the last Bone Song which is different, NOT space opera, but quite good – Context and Resolution are good also, but they just use the mind-blowing setting of Paradox without adding essentially new things)

    – Adam Roberts – Stone – another book that made me buy and overall enjoy all the author’s (nonparody) novels. As the author mentions, it’s a sort of response to IM Banks Culture novels, though it’s quite different and its conclusion that the only interesting person in a Culture type utopia is its one deranged serial killer is fascinating…

    – Walter Jon Williams – The Praxis books (Praxis, Sundering, Conventions of War)- these are quite good and I thought they were better known, so I was very surprised when I heard that right now Mr. Williams has difficulty publishing new books or as someone in the industry put it, he “needs a lucky break”

  7. I haven’t read much space opera in the last ten years, but if we’re talking underrated, I would have to agree with the Gap series. Those were some of the most screwed up characters I’ve ever read. You didn’t want to like them, but you couldn’t help yourself.

    Very well done.

  8. Heck, I think THE GOLDEN AGE by John C. Wright is underrated. It is the best bit of space opera I ever wrote, and yet the Queen of England has not offered me a knighthood, or even a squireship. What is the point of writing science fiction if the Queen of England does not read it? I wonder if she reads romances or detective novels instead.

    Yours truly,

    John C. Wright

    sulking and sullen author of an underrated space opera.

    (PS: just kidding. No person holding an office of profit or trust under the United States or any state is allowed to accept a title of nobility from a foreign prince. US Constitution, Art I, Sect 9)

  9. Glen Cook, The Dragon Never Sleeps (1988 mmpb, OOP). “A/A+”. Big, wide-screen space opera with all the trimmings: political intrigue, cool aliens, BIG space battleships (some explode!), near-immortal protagonists, a galaxy-spanning rapid-transit system, wonderful names (eg the Dire Radiant, a rebel fleet)…

    This was a reread, and it still kept me up til 1:30 AM. Very fine book, right up there with the very best BIG space-operas.

    Inexplicably, it’s never been reprinted.

    Happy reading–

    Pete Tillman

  10. Re: John Wright, THE GOLDEN AGE

    Well, John, IANTQoE, but I read all three, and liked them a lot…

    All the reviews I saw (including mine:D) were positive, so I don’t know about underrated, but I guess your “sulking and sullen author of an underrated space opera” SIG means they didn’t sell as well as you’d hoped :-S

    Cheers — Pete Tillman, who hasn’t gotten to the Phoenix Exultant yet

  11. I submit the Spinward Fringe series by Randolph Lalonde. It’s part of a new wave of eBook Indies, and my hubby won’t put the books down. SciFi isn’t normally my cuppa for reading, but I like the characters and keep up whenever Mr. Lalonde comes out with a new book.

    I like his horror more to be honest though. No vamps or furballs.

    I think his scifi is still free at Smashwords.

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