Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What the crap is Space Opera?

Science Fiction and Fantasy have some funny insider terms that people unfamiliar with the genres tend to look at sideways.  Case in point: I posted my review of Caliban's War last week, and my dear sister (who actually reads my blog--very surprising) asked me what the crap Space Opera is.  I responded that it was exactly what it sounds--opera in space.  Who doesn't enjoy good opera?  Definition done.  She believed me for a minute, and then I couldn't help grinning at her.  No, Space Opera isn't opera in space.  In fact, music has nothing to do with it.  Space, on the other hand, is a very important part of this Science Fiction sub-genre.  So, let's break down Space Opera so those of you unfamiliar with the genre can understand it.  I think it's the easiest Sci-Fi genre for readers to get into, although that seems to have changed over the past couple of years as the dystopian has taken over.  (Yes, those of you loving Hunger Games are in fact reading Science Fiction... mmmwwahaha!  The nerds will get you one way or another!)

First and foremost, Space Opera is fun.  It's adventurous, it's romantic (not in the boy-meets-girl sense, but there can be that, too), it's large-scale, and it takes place primarily in space, or on an alien world.  This is the epic form of Sci-Fi.  Movies that fit into this sub-genre are Star Wars, Star Trek (especially the newer version), and John Carter (which nobody gave a proper chance, but it's a great movie).  Space Opera is more concerned with a great story than science.  If there is some kind of technology that is cool, but totally unfeasible under the laws of physics, it is likely found in a Space Opera, rather than Hard Sci-Fi.  If there is some sort of magic in a Sci-Fi story, like the Force in Star Wars, it is Space Opera.  Like I said, this sub-genre is fun.

The Fifth Element is a campy, fun film that pokes fun at its own genre.  For those of you who have seen it, remember the blue alien chick singing opera on the spaceship?  Funny stuff.  Luc Besson was purposefully making a joke about Space Opera.

Some would define Space Opera as being about galaxy-spanding empires, epic wars in space, and greater-than life characters.  This is true about some Space Opera stories, but not all.  Dune, for example, is an excellent story along these lines.  Leviathan Wakes, however, is a story that takes place in our own solar system, before humans have expanded out into the stars.  Both fall under the sub-genre  for reasons I've already listed, but each are very distinct in style and characters.  (And both kick butt.  Read them!)

Here are some of my favorite Space Opera books.  I highly recommend them, and have reviewed several on this blog at one time or another.

-Dune, by Frank Herbert
-Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
-Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
-The Warrior's Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold
-Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey
-The Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds
-Hunter's Run, by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham
-Pandora's Star, by Peter F. Hamilton
-Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

I admit that I read more recent Space Opera than classic, but there are tons of other authors out there with great stories in the genre.  Find them.  Read them.  Love the form as much as I do.  And here's to hoping that you'll be able to read my YA Space Opera one day when I publish and take over the world with it.

That's all.


  1. I'm so glad you posted this! When I saw the title I totally laughed because I've totally thought "What the crap is Space Opera?" LOL! I *sorta* had an idea--I knew it was epic space stuff, but I've never *really* read it. So this is great! Thanks, Jordan! ;)

  2. Rock'n awesome post, Jordan. This is totally the science fiction I enjoy reading and writing. Thanks for spelling it out for us. :)

  3. Great article! Found this through Inkpageant. I'm going to show this to my friends who don't 'get' this genre. :)

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone!

  5. Okay, I came for the meet and greet, but stayed for the,la,la. Awesome post.

  6. yeah big surprise court would read your blog...she never reads anything:). I've never even heard of space opera and I still haven't read much in that genre. guess I better keep branching out!

  7. Wow. I had no idea that I write Space Opera. Haha. Thanks for the illumination. :)