When I was growing up, my dad tried to introduce me to grand opera.
It didn’t work.
But there’s one form of opera I do enjoy: space operas. Especially YA space operas. Popular back in the classic age of sci-fi, space operas are making a comeback. And that’s not surprising: as we get closer to actual space colonization, and as we grow more concerned about the state of our own planet, tales that provide escape, adventure, and reflection on where we are now and where we might be in the future have obvious appeal.
That’s why I wrote Freefall, the story of two twenty-second century teens who meet during a revolution on Earth and have to fight for their lives, their people, and their love in space. And it’s why I recommend the following books, which are among my favorite YA space operas of the past several years.
- Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. When I first heard the buzz about this book, I feared that its concept—the whole story is told through hacked documents, email exchanges, and so on—would turn out to be nothing but a gimmick. Happily, that’s not the case; the experimental style works perfectly to tell a tense story of deep-space intrigue, mysteries, and lies. Then, too, the musings of AIDAN, an AI system with the soul of a poet, are weirdly lyrical and gripping. And the developing relationship between teenage protagonists Kady and Ezra, a former couple who rediscover how much they need each other as their spaceships flee a galactic corporation bent on their destruction, is genuine and sweet.
- Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee. This debut novel not only delivers some amazing fight sequences—conducted, as the title indicates, in zero gravity—but constructs an excitingly original science fiction world set on Earth, Mars, and a lunar colony. The story of a Terran boxer’s rise and fall, set against a subplot of Terran/Martian tension and prejudice, Zeroboxer is told with the directness and visceral energy of a boxing match. Lee’s writing is clean, her plotting seamless, and her visualization of what sports and sports marketing might look like in the era of space colonization dead-on.
- Railhead by Philip Reeve. Set in a galaxy where warp-speed trains move from planet to planet while ruthless emperors and mysterious computer intelligences rule the masses, this novel involves a young thief, Zen, who makes a deal with a shady character named Raven to steal a supposedly worthless (but actually universe-shaking) artifact. The distant worlds Reeve creates are dazzlingly original, while Zen’s developing relationship with the android Nova grounds the story.
- Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray. Very much a character-driven story, this novel is thin on science but deep on emotion. Its unlikely duo—Noemi, a pilot preparing for a suicide mission to prevent an expansionist Earth from colonizing her home world, and Abel, a highly advanced “mech” (cyborg) from Earth whose mandate is directly opposed to hers—develop a relationship that’s both convincing and heartfelt. That relationship doesn’t quite blossom into romantic love, but I’m guessing it will in the planned sequel.
- Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller. A rollicking story featuring a mysterious stranger who joins forces with a deep-space captain to search for a volatile energy-source known as Shadow. The Shadow-fishing scenes have great energy and excitement (as one would expect, Strickland being a professional fisherwoman as well as an author). Though the second half of the book spends too much time on the (to me) uninteresting lives of the galaxy’s royal families, overall this is an exuberant story with a likable core duo and great potential to develop as the series unfolds.
So there you have it! Check out these books, check out the Freefall jacket, and enter the giveaway to win a signed hardcover copy of Freefall and a hardcover copy of Shadow Run. Oh, and if you see any Valkyries coming at you, don’t tell my dad!
Freefall releases on September 26. Want to read Freefall? Fill out the form below to enter to win Freefall and Shadow Run. Prizes donated by Joshua David Bellin. Open to the U.S. only. Void where prohibited.