The Top 10 Space Opera books or series of all time

Well, we did it, folks. Together with votes on this blog and on the Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group you nominated, discussed, and voted for the top Space Opera books (or series). This poll had some heated debate over on the Facebook group about what books should count as Space Opera!

Now, ordered from 10th to the very top Space Opera book, we present the top 10 selections for the best Space Opera books and series of all time.

Click on the links to check out the books featuring these favorites to add to your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).

Want to see who didn't make the cut? Click here to view the original poll that inspired this list.

*The results were decided by you based on votes tallied up between our Facebook group and on our blog.

10. Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons

The title of this series comes from the first two books, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. It now refers to the 4 book series, and some short stories. Several of the books have won awards, including the Hugo, Locus, and British Science Fiction Association Awards, and the series has been nominated for various science fiction awards.

The story arc of the series at first follows the stories of travelers on a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs on Hyperion to a creature called Shrike. Some worship it, some want to destroy it. It is Armageddon, and the entire galaxy is at war.

The first two books are influenced by The Canterbury Tales and the poetry of John Keats (in the form of dreams of John Keats), respectively. Later, in the third and then fourth book, the story jumps forward in time and deals more focusedly on a few characters as they encounter various futuristic religious complications.

Click here to find Hyperion on Amazon.

9. Old Mans War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War is a six-book, military space opera series and an extra short fiction. Each book is set in the same world, but follows a different main character.

It starts with John Perry, a 75-year old whose wife has just passed and he has become a volunteer recruit for the Colonial Defense Forces who protect human interplanetary colonists. He joins other retirees who all obtain souped-up bio-tech younger bodies to fight the war. The story follows Perry's tale from recruit through battles and challenges to his eventual promotion as captain.

Although each book is unique, the world-building links the tales together and is really phenomenal at developing a vivid world out there.

Click here to find the first book in the series, Old Man's War, on Amazon.

8. The Culture Series by Iain M. Banks

The Culture series gets its name from an extremely advanced, post-scarcity society called The Culture comprised of various humanoid races and AIs. There is little need for laws or enforcement since there are no dramatic needs such as food, or work. The members live in spaceships and other off-planet constructs. However, The Culture is just one of several “Involved” civilizations that take an active part in galactic affairs. And the differences between these civilizations has landed them in inter-galactic warfare.

The first book in the series, Consider Phlebas introduces readers to the utopian conglomeration of human and alien races that explores the nature of war, morality, and the limitless bounds of mankind's imagination. The book follows the story of a shapechanging agent of the Iridans during the Culture-Iridan war, who undertakes a clandestine mission to a forbidden planet in search of an intelligent, fugitive machine whose actions could alter the course of the conflict.

Click here to find the first book in the series, Consider Phlebas, on Amazon.

7. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vorkosigan Saga is a series of 30-publications and counting, including novels and a few shorter stories. While it is a series, each book is written intended to be a stand-alone piece, so a reader could theoretically jump in anywhere. Works in the series have received numerous awards and nominations, including five Hugo award wins including one for Best Series. The order of recommended reading is a bit up for debate since the chronology of publication does not follow the internal chronology of the Vorkosigan world. The author recommends reading the books in order of the internal chronology. So that's probably the best place to start!

The stories feature different planetary systems in the “Vorkosiverse,” a galaxy colonized by humans. The stories feature several planetary systems, each with its own political organization, including government by corporate democracy, rule by criminal corporations, monarchies, empires and direct democracies. The main character viewpoints include a diverse set of characters including several women, a gay man, a pair of brothers, one of whom is physically handicapped and the other a clone, and others.

According to the internal chronology, the first book is Falling Free. It has about four to five character points of view, but mainly follows Leo, a teaching engineer, and his students, the Quaddies (who have an extra set of arms instead of legs), a genetically modified species of humans designed to function in zero gravity environments. The students are not treated as full humans, and have been raised as such. When the company that owns the Quaddies abandons them, Leo has to decide how, and whether to, save them.

For the first book in the internal chronology of the Vorkosigan Saga, Falling Free, click here.

6. The Expanse series, by James S.A. Corey

The Expanse is a series of (so far…) eight science fiction novels (and related novellas and short stories) by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The first novel, Leviathan Wakes, was nominated for a Hugo Award and Locus Award and the series as a whole was nominated for the Best Series Hugo Award in 2017.

Leviathan Wakes introduces Captain James Holden, his crew, and Detective Miller. When they are confronted with a case of a single missing girl they realize it leads to a solar-system-wide conspiracy. With fantastic character development and truly Space Opera-tic levels of adventure, it seems almost cinematic. And indeed, the book was turned into an Amazon Prime Original series!

Click here to find the first book in the Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes on Amazon.

5. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is the first book in a quartet, but can definitely be read as a stand-alone book. It actually originated as a short story by the same name, in 1977, and became a book in 1985, updated again in 1991 to reflect contemporary political events. It has won the Hugo and Nebula awards and has been developed into a somewhat controversial film, as well as into two comic book series.

The first book, Ender's Game, follows the story of a boy, Ender, who is selected to go up into space for a the training program, Battle School. He, and other boys, are put through a variety of technically challenging “games” during which Ender's prowess as an analyzing and creative leader is revealed. Battle School prepares them to fight the war against the “Buggers,” an undergoing war which they might be close to losing…

Click here to find Ender's Game on Amazon.

4. Lensman series by E.E. “Doc” Smith

The Lensman series, written by Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith, is a six-book series (plus sequel) that was a runner-up for the 1966 Hugo award for Best All-Time Series.

E.E. “Doc” Smith is sometimes referred to as “the father of space opera” because of this series. It is a truly remarkable world-building saga. It opens with the book Tripleplanetary in which a inhabitants of the planet Nevia descend on earth to loot it of iron. After destroying the city of Pittsburgh the Nevians head home with with three human specimens in its hold. Among them is Conway Costigan, an undercover intelligence operative for the Triplanetary Patrol. From deep within the bowels of the enemy ship, Costigan must do the impossible: find a way to defeat the Nevians before every man, woman, and child on Earth is annihilated.

Find Tripleplanetary, and the rest of the Lensman series here on Amazon.

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

The Hugo and Nebula award-winning book Dune is the first of many Dune books (you can find the full list and order here). It started in 1965, and after the original author, Frank Herbert, died in in 1986, his son, Brian Herbert, and science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson published a number of prequel novels, as well as two which complete the original Dune series. It has been adapted to film and TV multiple times, and is currently under development as a film by Warner Bros. which will be released in November 2020.

In the first novel, Dune, noble families of the distant future control fiefs of an inhopsitable planet, Arrakis, covered in sand dunes. A drug called “spice melange” is the only substance of value and is coveted across the universe. Through sabotage and treachery some nobles cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet's harsh environment to die. He doesn't die, however, and grows up with a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what's rightfully his. As he grows up, he realizes he has unique powers, and appears to be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human. He might even be a messiah…

You can find the start of the Dune saga on Amazon, here.

2. Blood on the Stars series by Jay Allan

The most recent Blood on the Stars book, The Colossus, was just released in April 2019, and the next one, The Others is coming out this month!

One of the best things about this series is that the cast of characters is so well developed that even some of the “bad guys” are characters you want to root for. The series opens with Duel in the Dark which introduces the leaders of opposing captains of space battleships. It is a heavy, gritty, emotional read. When the exhausted crew of the Confederation battleship Dauntless are sent to the Far Rim as the sole assistance to a distress call out there, captain Barron knows it is his sole responsibility to stop the attack at the disputed border and to win victory to prove his worth as the lineage of a family of heroes.

You can find book one of the Blood on the Stars book Duel in the Dark on Amazon here, or the first three books in a three box set, here.

1. Honor Harrington series by David Weber

And the number one, all time best space opera as selected by DiscoverSciFi readers is the Honor Harrington series! Otherwise known as The Honorverse, most of the more than 20 novels and anthology collections cover events between 4000 and 4022 AD. Much of the series' political drama follows that of Europe's political scene from the 1500's to 2000's.

The first book, On Basilisk Station, follows Commander Honor Harrington and Her Majesty’s light cruiser Fearless during their assignment to the Basilisk system. Actually, Honor Harrington has been essentially exiled to the Basilisk, her crew is annoyed with her, and her ship is aged and can hardly be expected to police an entire star system. As much as the Basilisk system was supposed to be a less-than-interesting punishment assignment, it turns out to be a bit of a linch pin in a the aggressive plans of the Haven Republic. And the only one in position to stop them is Honor Harrington and her crew.

You can find book one of the Honor Harrington series, On Basilisk Station on Amazon here.

The space opera genre is full of great, mainly military series, and not everyone agrees on what exactly fits into the category. What do you think? Did you agree with all of the books chosen on this list? Join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? You can share your views in the comments below.

*Some book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.

27 replies
  1. Popsyckle
    Popsyckle says:

    Well, I looked at the list and I agree with a couple of them, but, on the whole? I don’t agree with the list. I guess everybody has there own, but no one list speaks for everybody. I know this list does not speak for me. Good luck…..

  2. Teressa
    Teressa says:

    Happy to see Dune, Hyperion, Culture and Vorkosigan series all on there I loved them all. However the write ups lead me to believe that whoever wrote them didn’t actually read them especially the Vorkosigan Saga. The blurb was awful and would put many people off what is a very character driven romp through an amazing universe. I laughed cried and every emotion in between with Miles Vorkosigan. Will definitely be picking up Old Mans War series and Blood on the Stars as I have been thinking about them anyway so now I know for sure to get started with them 👍👍👍

  3. Daneel
    Daneel says:

    Isaac Asimov, the galactic empire: I, robot + empire series + foundation series (15 books if I am not mistaken). I am not sure if they are considered space operas, but they are my favorites.

  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    Mostly military space operas made the list. The Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell is currently at 12 books and would qualify as well.

  5. Dan Rees
    Dan Rees says:

    I can’t speak for some of these, having only read books from three of the series featured here—Dune; Vorkosigan Saga,; and Honor Harrington. I was not as enthused about any of the Dune books as I know many are, but I heartily endorse the #1 position for the Honor Harrington Series! I agree with those who say that Asimov’s Foundation series deserved a place on the list, either as a smaller unit or together with the other series that he merged with them to make up the full Future History opus.

      • Dan
        Dan says:

        It wouold be helpful for understanding if those of you who say “Foundation is not space opera” would clarify your reasons rather than make a blanket statement. How do you define “space opera” and what part of that definition is not met?

  6. Patrick Segurson
    Patrick Segurson says:

    The write up on the first Dune Book is in correct.
    Only 1 family controls the Planet Arrakis at a time, there are no other control fiefs on Arrakis.

    House Harkonnen has a plan to defeat and kill their rival House Arteides with the help of the House Corrino, which controls the Empire. The Emperor is the leader of House Corrino.

    Paul Arteides is heir to the Dukedom of House Arteides.

    Paul survives the plan to defeat and kill House Arteides. He makes his way to the harsh desert to survive the Harkonnen plan. He is not cast out.

    Paul joins the Fremen, who live in the deep desert, and becomes their leader and brings them to power, while getting his revenge against House Harkonnen and the Emperor and House Corrino.

  7. Patrick Segurson
    Patrick Segurson says:

    The write up on the first Dune Book is incorrect.

    Only 1 family controls the Planet Arrakis at a time, there are no other control fiefs on Arrakis.

    House Harkonnen has a plan to defeat and kill their rival House Arteides with the help of the House Corrino, which controls the Empire. The Emperor is the leader of House Corrino.

    Paul Arteides is heir to the Dukedom of House Arteides.

    Paul survives the plan to defeat and kill House Arteides. He makes his way to the harsh desert to survive the Harkonnen plan. He is not cast out.

    Paul joins the Fremen, who live in the deep desert, and becomes their leader and brings them to power, while getting his revenge against House Harkonnen and the Emperor and House Corrino.

  8. Jim Hopkins
    Jim Hopkins says:

    Interesting list, but I’m surprised that the various sagas by Peter F. Hamilton are not included, especially the Commonwealth saga and the Void trilogy.

  9. David Nelson
    David Nelson says:

    I gave a nod to a few, but I’d replace others with Asimov’s Foundation series, including the Robot and Galactic Empire novels. Also, Al Reynolds Revelation Space, and probably the Nights Dawn series by Peter F Hamilton.

  10. JBL
    JBL says:

    The question of what is a “space opera” seems to be a problem. I don’t remember if the original item requesting votes on this specified what the blogger meant – I’m not sure I participated in that poll, for various reasons. There are some truly wonderful series out there, among which I include Herbert’s Dune and Asimov’s Foundation, for starters. But I do not consider them “space opera”.
    I think of space opera as being primarily melodrama and action. There are a lot of drama (and action) in Dune and Foundation, of course, but think more along the lines of (in movies, here) Star Wars and Raiders. I would definitely classify the Lensmen and Burroughs’s Barsoom series as “space opera”, for instance. I’d like to hear if anyone has a better description.

  11. Susan Kimmet
    Susan Kimmet says:

    I have never seen M.K. Wren’s The Phoenix Legacy mentioned anywhere, but I have read it re-read it. Couldn’t it be here?

  12. Gene Rasmussen
    Gene Rasmussen says:

    I think 3 on the list are worthy, 5, 4, and 3, but not necessarily in that order. Want all time, the Commodore Grimes/Rim Worlds Series is missing, Ring World, 2001 and sequels, Stranger in a Strange Land….. Def Asimov’s Foundation series. The rest of the list shown, barely if ever heard of.

  13. Matt
    Matt says:

    I am shocked and dismayed that Donaldson’s ‘Gap Series’ is not here. It is a space opera based on an actual opera (Wagner’s Ring Cycle). One of the best action/melodrama combinations I’ve ever read.


    I I was glad to see EE Smith on here–I would put it at number one, as I think Doc invented space opera. Dune does not belong on the list, as his novels are primarily planetary, and not space-based. I have read all Frank Herbert’s books, and he certainly deserves an award for the most carefully and intricately conceived world view, but it’s not space opera.

  15. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    You do have some nice choices listed; I just don’t think that they are all necessarily GREAT ones. Many possibilities from the “Space Opera” genre are missing. Space Opera should also include these authors: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s, “Liaden,” series ; Anne McCaffrey ‘s, “Pern,” series; Heinlein ‘s and many, many others. I think that perhaps you should have included the definition of Space Opera in the discussion before you released your request for submissions.


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