What do they read in space?

There is nothing like a shortlist to invite debate. So, in honor of Space Opera, I offer a short list of suggested reading to help flesh out the sub-genre of science fiction. This is essentially homework for anyone that wants to play a sci-fi RPG. The novels came well before the games, and the themes and concepts that make the games what they are were initally concieved in stories.


First up, Dune by Frank Herbert. Look, I’m skipping Star Wars and Star Trek. They are freakishly well-known tales at this point.  Dune, however, is just as epic anything George Lucas or Gene Roddenberry created. Please discuss. The kicker is that Dune is just one novel. Yes, there were sequels, but the full scope of Dune was laid out in the novel of the same name. I highly recommend this book. Politics, prophecy, cool technology, far out planets, bizarre flora and fauna, and more. If I really had to pick one book that summarized Space Opera, it might just be Dune. I’ll skip the synopsis because the internet exists, and you’re local library will likely carry it.

Next, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Look, this book is fantastic. Also, its fun. Unlike a lot of science-fiction this book is playful and humorous, but it is absolutely quality. Set in deep space, an unlikely hero embarks on fantastic journey that is brought about for somewhat absurd reasons. Yet, no matter how preposterous the book seems to get, it’s engaging. A definite must to put on the read list.

This next one is maybe a controversial pick, but I’m adding it for explicit reasons. Old Man’s War by Jon Scalzi is basically just a fast-paced action story. However, it is set in deep space featuring human beings that have biologically re-engineered to go and fight for the future of humanity. This book is on this list for three reasons. It’s current. The first two are classics but they are much older. Second, it features combat and confrontation with alien species, which in many tabletop RPGs is a core component. Third, it is going to be on video soon as a Netflix film. Not that the third is a criteria for reading the book, but Dune, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Old Man’s War are all available as films. Thus, even if you don’t like reading the stories are accessible.

Other books:

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

and of course Star Wars and Star Trek novels.


Look, this list could be long. Really, really long. There are loads of great space opera. Also remember, Space Opera started out in magazines and radio as well. The stories exist in different media. Explore and enjoy!





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