Small reviews: Space Operas

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I’ve always considered myself primarily a Fantasy fan, but it turns out that I end up reading – and enjoying – a lot more scifi, and in particular space operas, than I originally expected. And then getting overwhelmed with all the ones I want to review. So this is my attempt at a snapshot of all the Good Stuff I’ve read and didn’t have time/spoons to review but that I think really deserve a read.

A Pale Light in the Black, K. B. Wagers

Ever watched NCIS and thought the Coast Guards would make much better, more interesting and more ethical subjects? Well this is it! but queer! in space!

I have issues with military SF normally but this was about fighting corruptions and big capitalism, and the main team was all queer, with some poly and some ace rep (and I really loved that the same book could have both!) and characters I absolutely LOVED. I really enjoyed the audio narrator as well and had to jump on the sequel immediately. This makes K. B. Wagers an instant favourite and I need to grab their other audios soon!

To Be Taught If Fortunate, Becky Chambers

Listen, I thought I’d talked about this one before, but apparently I have not! I reread it a few months back and it holds up to a reread so very well. I like the low-stakes, chill exploration, the amazing worldbuilding that went into creating new life-sustaining worlds so different from our own, and the important questions it asks about who we are as humans, why we explore space, what we do with our science and power and technology… Chambers’ books always seem to have a strong ethical and scientific backing while being easy to read and understand, and incredibly easy to love. Also, I did not remember the ending exactly, and it broke me! Again!

The Red Scholar’s Wake, Aliette de Bodard

I did write a full review of this one, but what’s a post on space opera without a Xuya book? Give that universe a go if you haven’t yet!

Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany

I hesitated to include this one, as it’s a classic I read recently and in some ways it has not aged well (some weird fatphobia… beware) but in other ways it’s an incredible feat of language, and I was amazed by the descriptions of transhumanism, gender, polyamory, etc. included in a book published in the 60s. I think it’s truly worth a read, and I could see some of the influences on later SF as well.

Sisters of the Vast Black, Lina Rather

Another one I was certain I discussed before, but apparently not. This first in a series has a bunch of catholic nuns, on a living spaceship, doing God’s work by going planet to planet and performing marriages, baptisms, etc. Only one of them wants to leave because she’s fallen in love with a woman. And a whole colony they just visited may or may not be getting annihilated by political powers supported by their Catholic overlords?

I enjoy books that explore what it means to be religious, from a moral and ethical standpoint, and more generally to do when the institution you believe in is going against the morals that made you join in the first place. The living slug spaceship and the space politics shenanigans are an added bonus!

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

To be fully honest with you, I’m not sure I understood everything in this one. It gave me the strong feeling that the characters were much, much smarter than I am. And yet I still really enjoyed it, both the twisted stratagems and politics, and the characters fighting against their programming and corrupt higher-ups, that made it both military scifi and a criticism of militaries… This book feels on another level, but in a positive way.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Could not finish this list without including Ancillary Justice. Like Ninefox Gambit, I felt more than a bit outsmarted by this book. And yet at the same time, I enjoyed once more the exploration of what it means to be in a military, the idea of “ancillary bodies” that a spaceship controls and is and also isn’t really, and the exploration of gender in language, with languages that use only one pronoun for people, and having to adapt to differently gendered languages…

Looking at this list, I think a good summary of the space operas and SciFi in general that I enjoy is “queer, anti-military, anti-establishment, pro-science, queer queer queer”, so if that also sounds like your jam, maybe give these books a try!

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