So the thing about space opera is, what you really want is for it to feel like it’s taking place in a universe rich in history and lore and strange alien cultures and maybe just a touch of the eldritch. And there’s two ways to do that. The first way, the way that Star Wars used, is to pretend. Make the odd reference or two to things that don’t really exist, and let the audience’s imagination fill in those gaps. (And no matter what you do, don’t try to backfill those gaps with prequels.)
And then there’s the other way, the way that Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge’s Exordium series went, which is to actually build out a universe full of all kinds of thought-through history and aliens and cultures, and to actually immerse the reader in all of that, with dozens of points-of-view from different perspectives.
The upside to the Exordium approach is that it works amazingly well, and really does evoke that sense of a rich, historic galaxy. The downside is, when every chapter starts with a totally new viewpoint character in a new setting, it’s hard to get reading momentum going. And I’m only barely exaggerating about that “every chapter” thing—the first 22 chapters of The Phoenix in Flight start with sixteen different viewpoint characters, and they don’t stick with just one character per chapter, either. As much as I was enjoying these books, there were a bunch of times when I almost just put them down because I was too exhausted to take in another new setting and batch of characters and try to integrate them into the larger picture.
But it would have been a mistake to put them down, because this really is an excellent series. The plot is multi-layered and nearly as rich as the setting; the characters are wonderful, unique and complex; and in general, this is doing what I want far-future epic science fiction to do—providing a universe to get fully immersed in.
This isn’t for novices to the genre, but if you’ve read a bunch of SF, you should read this. And as a nice plus, the authors self-published the revised e-book editions, so you can buy them for a reasonable price and know that your money is actually going to the creators instead of multinational media conglomerates.