Teaching Rambles: If You Could Teach It…: The Space Opera Edition


One of the things I hope to do one day is teach a class on Space Opera.  Thus far, that opportunity has not arisen just yet, but the future is bright (as they say).  For this teaching-related post, though, I’d like to offer a suggested reading list for two different Space Opera courses and then get feedback from the wide world of SF/F.  I should note that I will conflate Military SF with Space Opera, in part because I’m not wholly convinced that they are always distinct categories.  For the sake of this post, I will use a slightly modified definition from Brian Aldiss’ (italics mine):

Colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, often but not always optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes…

The problem, of course, is that so much fits into this definition.  To avoid that, I will put emphasis on “very large-scale action” and take that to mean “multi-planetary action.”

Since I mostly teach American literature courses right now, I’m going to make two lists — one for an American literature course and one for a British literature course.  However, I am also wide open to the possibility of a World Lit-style course, so if you have suggestions for space operas written by people outside the traditional science fiction zones, please suggest them in the comments.

Here goes:

American Space Operas
The Skylark of Space by E. E. Doc Smith (1946)
Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)
Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell (2007)
Dust by Elizabeth Bear (2007)
The January Dancer by Michael Flynn (2008)

British Space Operas
Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1972)
Canapus in Argos by Doris Lessing (1979-1983)(not sure which book I’d pick)
Consider Phlebus by Iain M. Banks (1987)
The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton (1996)
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (2000)
Light by M. John Harrison (2002)
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross (2003)
Natural History by Justina Robson (2004)

Of course, teaching all of these books in a single semester might be difficult.  Sacrifices suck… I’ve also not included short stories, which are likely to replace certain novels (such as Bujold, who has written many shorts in the Vorkosigan Saga, thus opening up space for more space operas).

So, what would you change in my lists?  What am I missing?


Note:  I am not pleased by the overwhelming number of men on my lists.  Due to my definition, many of my favorite female authors simply didn’t fit, which exposed a critical gap in my reading.  If you have recommendations for significant space operas written by American and British women (other than the ones I’ve already named), please let me know so I can start filling those gaps in my reading.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

6 thoughts on “Teaching Rambles: If You Could Teach It…: The Space Opera Edition

  1. I'm not I understand how you managed to squeeze Starship Troopers, Ringworld, Natural History or Rendezvous with Rama into your definition of space opera. There's plenty of actual space opera for you to choose from, without having co-opt hard sf. Such as…

    The Risen Empire, Scott Westerfeld
    Shoal Sequence, Gary Gibson
    Humanity's Fire trilogy, Michael Cobley
    Skolian Saga, Catharine Asaro
    Ora Kel universe, Lynda Williams
    The Goda War, Jay D Blakeney
    Take Back Plenty Colin Greenland
    the entire oeuvre of Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
    A Matter of Oaths, Helen Wright
    Time Future, Maxine McArthur

    … and plenty more, if you look hard enough.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Ian. I wasn't trying to cram anything in that I didn't think fit. I was working with what I particularly enjoyed as a reader and felt comfortable teaching. There are, obviously, a lot of things I haven't read.

    But now I've got a huge list to look at πŸ™‚

  3. I think The Quiet War by McAuley is a must have. It's pretty much the epitome of solar space opera in my opinion.

    Space Opera is a really difficult category to define, though. What exactly is your definition of Space Opera?

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