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Thread: Recommend to me some good hard SF space opera.

  1. #1
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    Recommend to me some good hard SF space opera.

    First, my tastes:

    I love L.E. Modessit, Jr's SF mostly, but did not like 'hammer of darkness' and hated 'adiamante'. I thought 'the eternity artifact' was one of the best SF novels I ever read.

    I kind of liked Dave Weber for a while, and like parts of his work but got sick and tired of being constantly beaten over the head with his politics. Damn near every book of his had to either A. Bodyslam liberalism, B. praise conservativism or C. Both. In some of his books the bad parts of humanity were literally called the liberal progressives. Meanwhile conservative capitalists were the saints. Ugh, I got so sick of that I quit reading him, it was good SF but with the unbearable stench of fox news added in.

    I recently discovered Allistair Reynolds and loved his works "The prefect" and "pushing ice". I've read several of the revelation space novels and house of suns. Most of his work ranges from good to great.

    I'd like some good hard SF space opera style books. Any recommendations based on the above. PS My head doesn;t explode if there's FTL travel involved as I don;t consider that to be outside hard SF.

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    Some early Larry Niven (pre-Ringworld) had hard SF, stories such as Protector are pretty crisp. The Man/Kzin Wars anthology are an offshoot of his Known Space setting and vary by author between hard SF and near-Star Trek. Also, The Mote In God's Eye is a classic for good reason.
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    Peter F. Hamilton's Nights Dawn trilogy and his "commonwealth saga" (Pandora's star, Judas unchained and the Void trilogy) are all vast space operas. Don't know if they are "hard" enough, though. I also enjoyed Dan Simmon's Hyperion saga. The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks are also great reads.

    Although Noclevername mentions pre-Ringworld Niven stories, I do recommend Ringworld itself (and perhaps the two following sequels, if you buy into the Ringworld universe).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Certassar View Post
    Although Noclevername mentions pre-Ringworld Niven stories, I do recommend Ringworld itself (and perhaps the two following sequels, if you buy into the Ringworld universe).
    I only excluded Ringworld because it's IMO not fully hard SF-- it contains too much Wondertech that's impossible by today's physical laws. Teleporters, FTL, stasis fields, artificial gravity generators, inertialess thrusters, invulnerable hulls, "psychic luck" etc. Like the other late-period Known Space stories, it's semi-solid SF: closer to Star Trek than to real-world physics.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    impossible by today's physical laws.
    This makes me ROFL.

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    I think "hard science fiction space opera" is an oxymoron, actually. Even Al Reynolds' books are "based on real science" rather than "scientifically accurate", and he's definitely in the very hardest end of the spectrum for what can be reasonably called "space opera". IMCO.

    Charles Stross' Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise are of fairly similar relation to the known science and can be called "space operas". Plus they are grand old reads too. But that's really all that comes to mind at the mo'. Must think on this a bit.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Also, The Mote In God's Eye is a classic for good reason.
    It's a great book, but if you want truly classic space opera, try E. E. Smith's The Skylark of Space. That's when space opera was being invented!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Prof Tanhauser View Post
    I kind of liked Dave Weber for a while, and like parts of his work but got sick and tired of being constantly beaten over the head with his politics. Damn near every book of his had to either A. Bodyslam liberalism, B. praise conservativism or C. Both. In some of his books the bad parts of humanity were literally called the liberal progressives. Meanwhile conservative capitalists were the saints. Ugh, I got so sick of that I quit reading him, it was good SF but with the unbearable stench of fox news added in.
    Interesting. I haven't read the most recent books, so perhaps this is something I've missed, but I suspect I have different views about what constitutes "liberalism" or "conservatism." For one thing, the "Star Kingdom of Manticore" (where most of the main characters live) didn't strike me as particularly conservative as I'd consider it, and anyway, the focus of the stories was more on space battles and life in the military than economics.

    Still, I also got tired of the stories. Too much was taken from Horatio Hornblower, and he doesn't think through the implications of the technology (for one thing the spaceships are pretty much perpetual motion machines, given how much they can accelerate with relatively tiny energy input), and the technology isn't even that interesting outside of the magic stuff (FTL, reactionless drives, shields, and so forth). They don't have advanced AIs, no nanotech or a very limited variety, some medical improvements but little radically changed stuff. I consider this more military SF than space opera, though.

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    I would put in a word for Iain M Banks, who does space opera better than almost any other contemporary author. The stand-alone story The Algebraist is considerably harder SF than the very popular Culture stories, and uses almost exactly the same technology as Orion's Arm, interestingly enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I only excluded Ringworld because it's IMO not fully hard SF-- it contains too much Wondertech that's impossible by today's physical laws. Teleporters, FTL, stasis fields, artificial gravity generators, inertialess thrusters, invulnerable hulls, "psychic luck" etc. Like the other late-period Known Space stories, it's semi-solid SF: closer to Star Trek than to real-world physics.
    A lot of Known Space's wundertech came about as the center of a puzzle story and Niven regretted a lot of it later since he kept coming up against having to plot ahead so the problems couldn't just be solved by the already established tech.
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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    The stand-alone story The Algebraist is considerably harder SF than the very popular Culture stories
    The Algebraist is indeed "harder" than the Culture books, tho even it skirts around the issue of breaking "the light barrier" (via worm holes in that case) rather blithely. And once you do that, you're already knee deep in the made-up IMCO.

    On that note, after a cursory look at my book shelves I couldn't really come up with much that would be both "space opera" and "hard science fiction" aside of the already mentioned. One needs to note that both terms are big in the category of "horses for courses".

    C.J.Cherryh's the Alliance-Union universe is oftentime kinda hardish as settings go and many of the books or series set in it (such as Faded Sun Trilogy and Chanur series) qualify as space operas.

    John C. Wright's The Golden Age trilogy is fairly hard and I suppose there's enough space travel in it to make it a space opera tho the majority of the first two books takes place on Earth or on Earth orbit only.

    Stephen R. Donaldson purposefully set out to write a truly Wagnerian "doom and gloom, everything goes to heck in a handbasket" style of space opera in his Gap Cycle. So it's dark, depressing, gritty and oftentimes as hard on the reader as it is to its characters, but the hardness doesn't really extend to the science element.

    Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought books (A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky) are classic of the "new space opera" but far from hard science fiction. The latter is harder tho so maybe one would like to start with that.

    Anyway those are the ones I noticed at a glance and have the guts to recommend as per their literary merits. HTH.
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    Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity" is good, hard, science fiction, which takes place in space -- well, on a very strange planet in another stellar system -- but it lacks the "opera": no giant clash of many civilizations with doom for all in the end. It tells the story of a journey of exploration, from equator to pole, taken by an alien sea-trader on behalf of human scientists. I found it engrossing, and the science is HARD, baby!

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    Surely you should entertain the works of Robert Heinlein . And you should peruse the works of Arthur C. Clarke . To say that these gentlemen's works are illuminating would define the term .
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    Quote Originally Posted by tnjrp View Post
    The Algebraist is indeed "harder" than the Culture books, tho even it skirts around the issue of breaking "the light barrier" (via worm holes in that case) rather blithely. And once you do that, you're already knee deep in the made-up IMCO.
    Well, yes and no. Banks has given the most scientifically accurate description of a wormhole I've yet seen in published fiction; he even uses a little-known characteristic of wormholes (their requirement for asymptotically flat space) as a major plot point. He must have been reading up on the subject.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StupendousMan View Post
    Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity" is good, hard, science fiction, which takes place in space -- well, on a very strange planet in another stellar system -- but it lacks the "opera": no giant clash of many civilizations with doom for all in the end. It tells the story of a journey of exploration, from equator to pole, taken by an alien sea-trader on behalf of human scientists. I found it engrossing, and the science is HARD, baby!
    I might be in a minority here, but I think Mesklin is an an extraordinary planet, but also a very unlikely one. Big, fat, fast-spinning planets are likely to exist somewhere out there in the universe, but unfortunately I'm sure they won't be like that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    Well, yes and no. Banks has given the most scientifically accurate description of a wormhole I've yet seen in published fiction; he even uses a little-known characteristic of wormholes (their requirement for asymptotically flat space) as a major plot point. He must have been reading up on the subject.
    Banks strikes me as a writer who understands how things work in reality yet chooses to diverge from it, sometimes a lot, but in a controlled manner. You might call his books soft scifi but they're not soft the way Star Wars is.
    Perhaps it's... slightly fluffy scifi built in a manner more typical of hard scifi?

    Hm. I think the Star Wars sort of soft is based more on intuition and existing tropes, while the Culture flavor is based more on understanding, modifying and playing with the laws of physics and other things.

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    Quote Originally Posted by danscope View Post
    Surely you should entertain the works of Robert Heinlein . And you should peruse the works of Arthur C. Clarke . To say that these gentlemen's works are illuminating would define the term .
    And badly dated. Also what did Clarke ever write that could be called "space opera"? Some of Heinlein does fit that term, IMO, but nothing by Clarke.

    I suggest Greg Benford's "Galactic Center" series, which incidentally Alastair Reynolds cited as his inspiration (he also cites Niven's Known Space):

    The series, in order, is:

    "Into the Ocean of Night"
    "Across the Sea of Suns"
    "Great Sky River"
    "Tides of Light"
    "Furious Gulf"
    "Sailing Bright Eternity"

    plus a few short stories.

    I must warn that first book is also badly dated by now, and the second one can be very tedious due to many multiple-corner conversations, and very long internal monologues.

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    Dated or not, Heinlein wrote a lot of good stories with interesting characters (though some of his last novels should probably be avoided, or at least not be the first read).

    I'd recommend just about anything by Vernor Vinge.

    Benford is a bit of a problem for me - he writes about very interesting ideas but, to me at least, he never has characters I can care about. Sometimes, if the idea is interesting enough, that can work, but not often.

    Charles Sheffield's Heritage Universe stories would be space opera, I think, and fairly hard (though with some "new physics" bits). Unfortunately, Sheffield died before he finished the series. I still liked his stories.

    Poul Anderson wrote quite a few stories that would fit in this category too, usually fairly hard SF as well, sometimes extremely so. I wouldn't call it space opera, but Tau Zero is a great hard SF novel.

    I'd also probably add David Brin's Uplift Saga stories. There's a fair bit of new physics though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
    I might be in a minority here, but I think Mesklin is an an extraordinary planet, but also a very unlikely one. Big, fat, fast-spinning planets are likely to exist somewhere out there in the universe, but unfortunately I'm sure they won't be like that.
    I'd have to track down my copy of the book, but I think Hal Clement mentioned a number of issues with Mesklin that had been determined after he originally wrote about it. I always had the impression that getting things right was very important to him, and he was good about explaining where he had gotten things wrong.

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    Mentioned above, Poul Anderson swashed buckles with the best of them. You might try some of his Dominic Flandry novels; the Polesotechnic League stories with Nicholas van Rijn, David Falkayn, Adzel and Chee Lan; his Harvest of Stars series; The Boat of a Million Years; The Avatar.

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    Try John Ringo starting with 'Live Free or Die' then 'Citadel' finally 'Hot Gate'. These should be right up your probability path.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jetlagged View Post
    Try John Ringo starting with 'Live Free or Die' then 'Citadel' finally 'Hot Gate'. These should be right up your probability path.
    A 7 year old thread. Not likely that the original poster is still looking, by now he/she will have already read the whole library.
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    Since someone turned on the lights again... Robert Forward is pretty good science fiction, with the science as the main hero. He has one or two solid handwaves and your are off on a mystery science tour.
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    Earth That Was. I have wondered about that tale for years. Now that is a space opera that needs telling. Earth in ruins, a space fleet carrying the masses of humanity into the Deep. A system of stars, planets and moons to start again or replay the old. Stories, stories, and more stories but we really only know the one about a crew and their beloved ship. As I said, it needs to be told.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Some early Larry Niven (pre-Ringworld) had hard SF, stories such as Protector are pretty crisp. The Man/Kzin Wars anthology are an offshoot of his Known Space setting and vary by author between hard SF and near-Star Trek. Also, The Mote In God's Eye is a classic for good reason.
    And The Gripping Hand for a follow up. Outies by Jerry's daughter, uses that universe with an interesting salute to King David's Spaceship.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noisy Rhysling View Post
    And The Gripping Hand for a follow up. Outies by Jerry's daughter, uses that universe with an interesting salute to King David's Spaceship.
    Meh, I can't really recommend TGH, it bored me. And I haven't read Outies.
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    I just started John Scalzi's new space opera series, beginning with The Collapsing Empire. I like Scalzi's clever dialogue, although one must not mind colorful language. It's different enough from his other hard SF space opera series The Old Man's War. That was very military-based, whereas the conflict in The Collapsing Empire is more geo-political.

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    If you're looking for really good hard SF; "The Burning Dark" is a favourite of mine...hard SF, fascinating characters and a mystery to boot.

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    <rant>
    I'm not sure that "hard sf" is even a sensible category -- most hard sf books, especially the "hard" sf space operas, play as fast and loose with their physics as does just about anybody short of Tolkien. In many ways, the Hainish cycle by LeGuin is at least as hard as, say, Pournelle's CoDominium series, yet the latter would be put into the "hard sf" box and the former wouldn't be.
    </rant>
    That little rant out of the way,

    Iain Banks, in his Culture series.
    Benford's Galactic Center series
    McDevitt: I've read some assorted books by him, and was entertained*
    Niven & Pournelle's Mote in God's Eye (I read the Gripping Hand and was entirely unimpressed)

    Truly, Anderson can buckle a swash, and wrote some great space opera. EE "Doc" Smith pretty much invented the genre (although it's "hard" only in that it's got no significant women)

    And, if there's to be real space opera, can we have Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufman sing the leads?




    * Omega and Deepsix.
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