Reviews: Space Opera That Doesn't Suck

Hearts as Black as Coal

The Trove — Tobias S. Buckell

Tobias S. Buckell’s 2018 The Trove is a standalone SF adventure novel.

Interstellar travel has not eliminated social stratification. Earth is home to oligarchs whose wealth is hard to measure. In contrast, the wealth of Jane Hawkins and her two mothers, Sadayya and Tia, is very easy to measure: it is the Nelson Inn, located in the unfashionable part of Sargasso Port. Customers are few, the inn is struggling, and Tia is slowly dying of an incurable disease.

A more prosperous inn would have turned away rigger Villem Osteonidus. Not only does the cyborg lacks any personal charm, he’s a drug addict. But the Hawkins Inn needs every customer it can get. Villem gets a room, one his hosts expect him to occupy for only as long as it takes for the drugs to kill him.

Villem has far worse problems than his addiction.

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Everybody Knows

Revenant Gun — Yoon Ha Lee
Machineries of Empires, book 3

2018’s Revenant Gun is the third volume in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy.

Seventeen-year-old Shuos Jedao wakes to discover he is actually over four centuries old. Most of his memories have been stolen by the enemy. Despite having few conscious memories of military experience, he is expected to command a vast military in a war over the fundamental rules of existence.

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With the Reason of Hope and Believing

Space Opera — Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente’s 2018 Space Opera is a standalone space opera.

In the not too distant future, humanity finds itself invited into the Warm Fuzzy Galactic Family, an interstellar community of beings who agree to recognize each others’ personhood. There are a couple of tiny catches: membership is not automatic and failing the test will result in the total extermination of the human race. Also, the test is mandatory.

The good news is that the test is fairly straightforward: participate in the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a galaxy-wide musical contest. Humanity’s champions don’t even have to win, just avoid coming in dead last. The aliens are even kind enough to provide a list of musicians they feel have a chance of not abjectly losing. It’s too bad that everyone on that list is dead.

Well, not quite everyone.

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Lady Bug, Lady Bug, Fly Away Home

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls — Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s 2015 space-opera The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is an instalment in her Universe of Xuya, an alternate history/future in which the West never dominated the world. The galaxy is ruled by Confucian powers.

Suu Nuoc is woken from a sound sleep by his alarmed shipmind, The Turtle’s Golden Claw. The artificial intelligence reports that Grand Master of Design Harmony Bach Cuc has seemingly vanished, in a manner the shipmind cannot comprehend. As far as The Turtle’s Golden Claw is concerned, it is up to Suu Nuoc — an Official of the First Order despite his low birth — to work out what happened to the missing scientist.

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Memories They Can’t Be Boughten

A Matter of Oaths — Helen S. Wright

Helen S. Wright’s 1988 A Matter of Oaths is a standalone (thus far) space opera.

Desperate for crew but short on qualified candidates, Commander Rallya of the patrolship Bhattya grudgingly hires Rafe. His service record is glowing, his professional qualifications are exemplary, but … Rafe has been mind-wiped, for reasons about which Rallya can only speculate.

Not having a choice really speeds up the decision making process. At least Commander Rallya can be sure that whatever Rafe’s past, identity erasure has made it completely irrelevant to his present.

Right?

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Can You Come a Little Closer?

Waiting on a Bright Moon — JY Yang

JY Yang’s Waiting on a Bright Moon is a standalone space opera.

In another life, Ansible Xin might have been a starmage. In this one, her sexual orientation was the pretext used to strip her of her birth name and consign her to endless drudgery as a living communications device on Eighth Colony.

The appearance of a mysterious corpse on the threshold of an interstellar portal sets in motion events that will transform Xin’s life.

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How I Wish I Was in Sherbrooke Now

Barbary Station — R. E. Stearns
Shieldrunner Pirates, book 1

2017’s Barbary Station is the first book in R. E. Stearns’ Shieldrunner Pirates series.

Faced with crushing debt and poor employment prospects, two women in love plan to hijack a large, expensive space ship and use it to buy their way into the pirate gang currently in possession of the so-called Barbary Station. Thelma and Louise, in SPAAACE.

Adda and Iridian’s scheme is such a simple, straight forward plan it’s hard to see how it could possibly go wrong. Indeed, it works almost perfectly until the pair and their hapless, expendable ally arrive at the station, whereupon their helper is shot dead and the two women learn they have made a slight miscalculation.

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I’ll Take Thee Away

Caliban’s War — James S. A. Corey
Expanse, book 2

2012’s Caliban’s War is the second book in James S. A. Corey’s ongoing Expanse series.

Fresh off playing a central role in the intensification of the ongoing Earth-Mars rivalry (from cold war to the brink of the real thing), James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante now work for the Outer Planets Alliance. Their job: tracking down and dealing with pirates eager to take advantage of the current chaos. It’s a grim job but at least Holden and his people can be sure the alien protomolecule — a super-powerful nanotech able to reshape living things according to inscrutable and ancient protocols — is safely confined on Venus and will never bother humanity again.

It bothers humanity again.

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A Restless Spirit on an Endless Flight

Stoneskin — K. B. Spangler
Deep Witch

2017’s Stoneskin is a prequel to K. B. Spangler’s upcoming Deep Witch trilogy.

Tembi Moon, one of the poorest of Adhama’s poor, knows her alleys and she knows that the alley in which she has awakened is no alley that she has ever seen. It’s the first hint that something vast and alien has taken a personal interest in her.

Vast, alien, and as friendly as a puppy dog.

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No Escape From The Ties That Bind

Provenance — Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie’s 2017’s Provenance is either a standalone novel set in the same universe as the Ancillary books, or the first book in a series set in the same universe as the Ancillary books. I should find out which it is before posting this. Wonder if I will.

Oh, well.

Determined to prove her worth to her high-ranking foster-mother Netano Aughskold, Ingray Aughskold has invested most of her money in a very bold scheme, a scheme so well planned that it does not go off the rails until shortly before the book begins.

Ingray paid to have a very special person retrieved from durance vile. She did not expect him to arrive in a suspension box1. Nor did she anticipate that meticulously conscientious Captain Uisine would insist on talking to the man in the box to make sure that he wanted to be transported from Tyr Siilas to distant Hwae. Nor did Ingray foresee that the man in the box would deny being Pahlad Budrakim, the arch-criminal who is the key to Ingray’s cunning plan.

And then the real complications begin.

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All the Merry Men Drowned in the Sea

Revenger — Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynold’s 2016 Revenger is a standalone SF novel.

Eager to escape her foolish father and his incredibly creepy associate Doctor Morcenx, teenaged Adrana Ness talks her way onto Captain Rackamore’s light-sail spacecraft. Rather than abandon her younger sister Fura to Morcenx, Adrana convinces her sister to accompany her into deepest space in search of freedom and fortune.

What they get is death and corruption but hey, A for effort.

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who was once handsome and tall as you

Consider Phlebas — Iain M. Banks
Culture, book 1

What better novel to inaugurate Space Opera That Doesn’t Suck than Consider Phlebas? This 1987 novel by the (sadly) late Iain M. Banks wasn’t Banks’ debut novel, but it was the first novel to feature his star-spanning, anarchistic utopia, the Culture.

Banks chooses to introduce the Culture not from the perspective of a sympathetic observer, but rather from the point of view of an enemy. The Changer Horza sees Minds, the artificial intelligences that dominate the Culture, as anti-life and the culture of the Culture as an anti-evolutionary dead end. Accordingly, when the Idiran-Culture War breaks out, Horza casts his lot with the Idirans. The Idirans might be violent, repressive, bigoted religious fanatics but at least they are on the side of life. Or so Horza sees it. And a shapeshifter like Horza is a valuable asset….

His cover blown, shackled to a cell wall, waiting for a rising tide of waste to drown him …

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