E. Lucubrare's List of Pillow-Soft Mostly Older Sci-Fi, Much of Which Has Swords in It
John Barnes’ Thousand Cultures series, starting with A Million Open Doors. Our main character is a man from a reconstructed 13th or so century Occitan culture, i.e. troubadours in space.
Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor universe (Lord Valentine’s Castle). I won’t pretend that these are unproblematic in their views of, say, women and colonization, but they are great fun, and they’re one of the few series that feels like coming home.
Doris Egan’s Ivory trilogy, which is about a scholar (in space) who gets trapped on a planet where magic works (in space) and falls in love with an Aloof Wizard Type who falls in love with her & who has a Complicated Noble Family. Highly recommended.
Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald’s Mageworlds universe. I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a Star Wars, uh, homage. But with about 200% more women than Star Wars - our main character is Beka Rosselin-Metadi, who is a hotshot space pilot who is also a princess of a planet that got destroyed, plus there are mages in space.
I don’t know if Golden Witchbreed is as soft as, say, the Mageworlds, but it’s definitely not hard: it’s about an Earth explorer who gets involved in local conflicts, and it’s beautiful; I also loved the sequel, Ancient Light.
Basically anything by Melissa Scott is delightful, but Five-Twelfths of Heavenfeatures a fake triad marriage becoming real and ships that navigate by the music of the spheres.
Starwolfis about furry space Vikings and the human who tries to fit in with them. I know. It sounds dumb. It’s really good.
I spent a lot of time complaining about City of Diamond, and it probably needs the sequels it never got, but it’s got Space Royalty and some pretty interesting worldbuilding.
A Matter of Oaths has come up a couple of times: it’s being rereleased, so Tor reviewed it. It’s a little bit of a mess, but it’s got solid relationships and immortal space emperors.
I love Leigh Brackett. The Ginger Star is a bad name; but it’s good writing and it’s basically sword and sorcery in space, if you like that sort of thing.
Carve the Sky is a meditation on the importance of Art and the whole idea of ars longa, vita brevis. No, but really. There’s also Space Assassination.
Speaking of space assassination, Assassin’s Dawn isn’t like, good. But it’s enjoyable, and it’s got some great plots in it. (The assassin’s guild has to give people the chance to live! so they warn them and if they can make it past dawn they’re fine! I would read fanfic for this that would probably be better than the book!)
I think Thomas Harlan might think Wasteland of Flintis harder than it is. But it’s about space archaeology and the Remnants of a Lost Civilization and also some alt history that I wasn’t paying attention to that means that the Aztecs and the Japanese got to space first. There is shamanism in space, which I think we all need more of.
Speaking of Space Archaeology, I find Judith Tarr to be pretty hit or miss, but Forgotten Sunshit, and hit hard. It’s about a reawakened super-powerful mostly benevolent god-king and the family that takes him in.
I didn’t love Joan Vinge’s The Snow Queen, which is, surprise, the Hans Christian Andersen story in space, but it does have a lot of good points.
Matthew Hughes’ Majestrumis…hard to explain. It’s Sherlock Holmes in Space, but also there’s a giant cycle between ages of technology and ages of magic, and magic is coming back into ascendency. Not great on the Woman Problem; deeply in debt to Jack Vance - but delightful.
Gaie Sebold’s Babylon Steel is a…romp. It’s fun. it’s got a Bustling Spaceport, which is my favorite thing in the world. It’s not great, but there are very few books on this list I’d describe as Great.
And, since I don’t feel like going through my whole goodreads read list, we’ll close there. Happy reading.