I was originally going to make this a list of female authored space operas, but then I started going down the rabbit hole of asking, “What books qualify as space operas?” Someday in the future, I may do a list that’s more specifically space operas, not just books set in space. First I’ll probably need to do a whole separate post about what I consider “space opera” to mean!
Oh, the inspiration for this list is how “Best of” lists for the subgenre tend to be dominated by men. As always, women write these stories as well.
Binti is the first of the Himba, a scientifically and mathematically gifted but inward focused people, to be accepted into Oomza University, a galactic center of learning. She runs away from her family to join the stars, and along the way, the spacecraft she’s on is attacked by an alien race.
If you’re looking for a shorter story, Binti’s a good choice, since it’s a novella and fairly fast read. It also works well as a YA cross over.
Devi Morris wants nothing more than to join the elite unit of the king’s guard, the Devastators. She even quits her job at the best mercenary company in her corner of the universe when she realizes that she can’t move up any higher. Instead her ambition takes her to The Glorious Fool, a cargo ship so known for getting into trouble that one year on it is worth five years anywhere else. But even Devi underestimates just how much trouble the Fool can be.
While Fortune’s Pawn has some formulaic elements, it’s also a whole lot of fun. Think Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with the Kate Daniels series. It’s got a fast pace and plenty of action.
For the last twenty years, Hailimi Bristol has been traveling the galaxy making a living as a gunrunner. But Hail was born a princess of the Indranan Empire, and now she’s being dragged back home. With her sisters dead and her mother sick, Hail is desperately needed as an heir to the throne. But her sisters didn’t die by accident, and it will take every scrap of cunning Hail has to survive, find out who’s murdering her family, and protect her empire.
Behind the Throne is another science fiction book that may not be deep but is super fun.
The Wayfarer is a small, privately owned ship used to make tunnels through space. Once these tunnels are completed, ships can jump through the wormholes from one point to another. On the face of it, this book is about when the crew of the Wayfarer takes a job making a tunnel to a distant planet inhabited by an unfathomable and hostile alien race. However, this book is really more about the journey than the destination. Rosemary is a new hire who’s hiding a secret. Other characters include: an alien pilot from a lizard like species; the ship’s captain, who’s involved in a secret relationship with an alien woman; two gregarious mechanics; a strange alien navigator; the ship’s AI; an alien who serves as both doctor and chef; and an anti-social man who takes care of the ship’s algae. All have their own problems and secrets which are explored over the course of the book.
This cozy science fiction novel has been compared favorably to the TV show Firefly.
In the far future, a galactic empire is crumbling and Linh is a refugee, fleeing to Prosper Station, run by Mistress Quyen. The two women are very different, and it was interesting to read their opinions of each other. Both accuse each other of arrogance, but I think Linh probably most deserves that criticism. She had a high ranking before the war came to her planet, and she seems to expect Quyen (whom she scorns for her lesser education) to immediately give her a position of power.
On a Red Station, Drifting is another excellent choice for a shorter read. This little science fiction novella packs quite the emotional punch.
Maria Arena is a clone. Whenever she dies, she wakes up in a new body with memories from whenever she last downloaded them. But now Maria has awaken in a new body where her old one is still floating dead — the entire six person crew of the spaceship Dormire are clones, and all of them have woken up with no memories of the last twenty years after they’ve apparently been murdered. Not only that, but the cloning machine is broken. If the killer strikes again, there will be no more second chances.
If a locked room mystery in space with clones sounds like your sort of book, Six Wakes is a story you should pick up.
Fool’s War is set several hundred years in the future when space travel is common place and there are many human colonies. These colonies are connected by a faster than light network which shares mainly financial information as FTL communications are costly and inefficient. To fill the gap, there are data companies such as the spaceship Pasadena, which Al-Shei shares ownership of with her brother-in-law. He’ll pilot the ship with his own crew for eight months and carries on some smuggling on the side while Al-Shei stays on Earth with her husband and children. Then, she’ll take the ship for eight months and run a legitimate business. Obviously, this situation is going to lead to trouble. And when the trouble arrives, it is of a kind feared and familiar to the people of this universe: a rogue Artificial Intelligence. Periodically in the networks and computer systems of this universe, and AI will gain sentience then go rogue and destroy everything in its path.
Fool’s War is a great stand alone science fiction story with a multi-cultural cast.
Zan wakes with no memory of who she is. She’s told that she’s a great general and the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, the mysterious world ship that’s capable of leaving the legion of artificial planets. She knows there’s a lot she’s not being told, especially by Jyn, a woman who claims to be her sister.
The Stars Are Legion is set among a fleet of planet sized, organic bio-ships that surround an artificial sun. All of the technology is organic in nature, and all of the people aboard the ships are women. These women are actually a part of the ship’s ecosystem, giving birth to ship parts and organic tech whenever deemed necessary by the ship. Read this stand alone story if you’re looking for something that’s dark, gory, and feminist.
Breq was once the Justice of Toren, a giant starship with thousands of “ancillary” bodies forming one hive mind. Now all that has been ripped away. All she’s got left of herself is a single ancillary body… and a desire for revenge.
If you’re at all tapped into modern science fiction, you’ve doubtlessly heard of Ancillary Justice, which swept through the award season of a few years ago. Here’s the thing: there’s a reason this book’s so acclaimed. It’s really good.
In that short span of pages, Jos’s home trading ship is attacked, his parents killed, and Jos himself kidnapped by an abusive pirate captain. When Jos finally manages to get away, it is because he is kidnapped yet again, this time by an alien sympathizer. He winds up on the alien planet and is trained as warrior in the fight against humanity.
Warchild is a brutal book about the effects of war on a child’s psychology. It’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read. Just go in prepared for a story that’s incredibly powerful but also incredibly dark.
While my list is at a close, remember that these are only scrapping the surface of science fiction written by women. One of my bookish friends, Sandstone, has a huge twitter thread of space operas written by women. It’s seriously impressive, and if you’re looking for more books, I’d suggest checking it out.
What are your favorite space operas or stories set in space?