The best space opera books that mix myth and history

Adam Burch Author Of Song of Edmon
By Adam Burch

Who am I?

The first movie I saw in the theater was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with tales of good versus evil and coming-of-age stories that mix futuristic settings with real-world mythology and history. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in hopes of swinging my own lightsaber one day. Along the way trained in martial arts and Shakespeare. Playing D&D with industry friends led to me writing my own sci-fi adventures and mixing elements of all those types of stories I loved growing up.


I wrote...

Song of Edmon

By Adam Burch,

Book cover of Song of Edmon

What is my book about?

The isolated planet of Tao is a house divided: the peaceful Daysiders live in harmony while the pale Nightsiders pursue power and racial purity through the violent ritual of the Combat.

Edmon Leontes, the gentle son of a ruthless warrior noble and a proud Daysider, embodies Tao’s split nature. The product of diametrically opposed races, Edmon hopes to live a quiet life pursuing the music of his mother’s people, but his Nightsider father cruelly forces him to continue in his bloody footsteps to ensure his legacy. Edmon’s defiance will cost him everything…and spark a revolution that will shake the foundations of Tao. His choice—to embrace the light or surrender to the darkness—will shape his own fate and that of his divided world.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Dune

By Frank Herbert,

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

“Holy--! Like Star Wars, only for adults,” I thought when I read this book at fifteen. I immediately identified with the young protagonist growing up in a world infused with dark forces beyond his control who must master his powers to survive. I keep coming back to read Dune to discover something new, whether it’s in the feudal culture clashing with an oppressed indigenous population, or its themes of ecology, myth/religion, colonialism, and the dangers of charismatic leaders. This book grounds its strange, interstellar universe with a mixture of real-world history and politics, then packages it into a classic monomyth that belies its dark and subversive undertones. Great as allegory relevant to modern geopolitics or just as a sci-fi adventure yarn, Dune is one of the all-time great science fiction reads. 

Dune

By Frank Herbert,

Why should I read it?

40 authors picked Dune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before The Matrix, before Star Wars, before Ender's Game and Neuromancer, there was Dune: winner of the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, and widely considered one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Melange, or 'spice', is the most valuable - and rarest - element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person's lifespan to making interstellar travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of…


Red Rising

By Pierce Brown,

Book cover of Red Rising

Why this book?

“Damn! He did it better!” was my reaction reading Pierce Brown’s Red Rising while I was working on my debut novel. Brown’s writing is epic, fast-paced, and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. Set in a not-too-distant future, Darrow, a young hell-diver of the “Red” caste helps to terraform Mars but is transformed by a secret rebellion into an overseer “Gold” when his young wife is murdered and he learns the truth: that Mars was terraformed long ago and his people have been enslaved by the lie. Red Rising is a fascinating adventure tale. Brown’s story rises above others in the genre by putting a new spin on the evolution of humanity that mixes in themes of Eugenics, Roman culture, and Greek mythology seamlessly. 

Red Rising

By Pierce Brown,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Red Rising as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, BUZZFEED, GOODREADS AND SHELF AWARENESS

Pierce Brown's heart-pounding debut is the first book in a spectacular series that combines the drama of Game of Thrones with the epic scope of Star Wars.

**********

'Pierce Brown's empire-crushing debut is a sprawling vision . . . Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow' - Scott Sigler, New York Times bestselling author of Pandemic

'[A] top-notch debut novel . . . Red Rising ascends above a crowded dystopian field' - USA Today

**********

Darrow is a Helldiver. A pioneer…


Ilium

By Dan Simmons,

Book cover of Ilium

Why this book?

“Mythology, Shakespeare, Cthulhu, oh my!” Not as well-known as his most famous sci-fi work, Hyperion, Dan Simmon’s Ilium is just as impressive. The book bounces back and forth between characters of Greek myth reenacting the events of the Trojan War on the Martian plains, humans reawakening to their purpose on a post-apocalyptic Earth, and a pair of philosophizing robots, all in the shadow of a dark god coming to devour them all. The first in a duology, Ilium weaves its disparate storylines to a climax where readers solve the riddle of how it is that Lovecraft’s monsters are living alongside Shakespeare’s characters and Homer’s epic poem in a world that has suffered a mysterious cataclysm. Any reader of mythology and literary allusion in their speculative fiction will hungrily devour this book. 

Ilium

By Dan Simmons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ilium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Taking the events and characters of the Iliad as his jumping- off point, Dan Simmons has created an epic of time travel and savage warfare. Travellers from 40,000 years in the future return to Homer's Greece and rewrite history forever, their technology impacting on the population in a godlike fashion.

This is broad scope space opera rich in classical and literary allusion, from one of the key figures in 1990s world SF. Ilium marks a return to the genre for one of its greats.


The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)

By Philip Pullman,

Book cover of The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)

Why this book?

“The war against heaven? Awesome!” Diving into The Golden Compass, the first in Philip Pullman’s epic His Dark Material’s series is diving into a twisting and turning dimension-hopping thriller. Starting in an alternate universe where magic exists, humans have animal soul representations known as daemons, and an evil Church known as the Magisterium hunts down young Lyra Silvertongue and her daemon Pantalaimon, the Golden Compass mixes fantastical elements with steam-punk suspense for a page-turning adventure. Beware, Pullman plays on John Donne’s Paradise Lost to create a religiously subversive young adult speculative fiction steeped in a sort of steam-punk world but may be viewed as a direct counterpoint to CS Lewis’ blatant religiously indoctrinating Chronicles of Narnia series. However, this book is smart, powerful, and has a strong female main character. 

The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Golden Compass (Northern Lights) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking
HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically
acclaimed BBC/HBO television series. First published
in 1995, and acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, this first
book in the series won the UK's top awards for children's literature.

"Without this child, we shall all
die."

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live
half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford.

The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands
of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight.

Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences
far beyond her own world...



This…


Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card,

Book cover of Ender's Game

Why this book?

“Growing up is hard. Growing up while leading the war against aliens that want to annihilate Earth is cool.” A little departure from the other stories on my list, Ender’s Game is a bit lighter on mythology and literary allusions but has become a sci-fi classic. Ender grows up in a future under siege by aliens and is sent to battle school to rise through the ranks and become Earth’s head commander. The grandaddy of a sub-genre that features young adult protagonists going off to “school” to become adept in their special abilities, Ender’s Game is a fast, gripping read. It’s also dark and disturbing, carrying a deeper message about the dangers of lack of communication and understanding that is combined with humankind’s innate propensity toward xenophobia and violence. 

Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Ender's Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Orson Scott Card's science fiction classic Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut―young Ender is the Wiggin drafted…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mars, good and evil, and dystopia?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mars, good and evil, and dystopia.

Mars Explore 54 books about Mars
Good And Evil Explore 89 books about good and evil
Dystopia Explore 255 books about dystopia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Rendezvous with Rama, Contact, and The Overstory if you like this list.