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Thread: What is a space opera

  1. #1
    figuring it all out JoGrix's Avatar
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    What is a space opera

    And how do I know if my novel IS a space opera?

    I've had that word bandied about in terms of my work and I'm trying to figure out what they mean.
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  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    A drama or romance (the old-fashioned, heroic adventure kind of romance, not the I LOVE YOU, MAN l-I-MET-LAST-WEEK type) that takes place in space
    Well, that’s how I like to think of it, anyway. Maybe someone will have a better definition of it.

  3. #3
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Not going to be of much help, but when I think space opera I think Star Wars. When I think space western I think Firefly.
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  4. #4
    The force is strong in this one. williemeikle's Avatar
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    As you'd expect, there's a Wiki for that :-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_opera

    Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. The term has no relation to music and it is analogous to "soap opera". Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale.
    IMHO Firefly is indeed Space Opera, and there's a list with it on it...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_opera_media

    • Star Trek (1966–present) created by Gene Roddenberry
    • Star Wars (1977–present) created by George Lucas [25]
    • Battlestar Galactica (1978–1979 and 2004–2009) created by Glen A. Larson & Ronald D. Moore[26][27][28]
    • Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985) created by Jeffrey Scott
    • Babylon 5 (1993–1998) created by J. Michael Straczynski [25]
    • The Chronicles of Riddick, characters by Ken Wheat and direction and universe by David Twohy.
    • Stargate (1994-2011[29]) created by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin
    • Farscape (1999–2003) created by Rockne S. O'Bannon[30]
    • Titan A.E. (1999) created by Ben Edlund, John August, and Joss Whedon
    • Andromeda (2000–2005) created by Gene Roddenberry
    • Firefly (2002) created by Joss Whedon



  5. #5
    War of 1812 Vet Chase's Avatar
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    I think the term is as slippery as a greased pig at a county fair. It sprung from melodramatic daytime radio romance serials, many sponsored by soap companies. Thus, "soap operas."

    Romantic westerns on radio and TV soon became known as "horse operas."

    The sci-fi novels I loved as a kid were horse operas blasted into outer space, gadgets traded for saddles but with the same pretty girls. The asteroid farmer's daughters needed rescue from bug-eyed monsters rather than foreclosing bankers and Apaches.

    Sigh . . . the good ol' days.
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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW
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    There's a lot missing from that list.

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    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I see the term used a lot to refer to the old-fashioned style of science fiction that are set on space ships or in exotic settings (may be aliens and alien planets), or where travel between star systems or planets within a star system is an important factor. Also, there is a tendency for the stories to focus around adventures, exploration, heroism in that setting.

    There may be less attention to "realism" or explaining the science beyond a certain level in classic space operas as well. So the existence of things like faster than light drives, ships with on-board gravity that doesn't seem to be generated by any sort of special set up, desert or ice planets with breathable atmospheres and abundant and diverse flora and fauna, or aliens that look just like us (or maybe like our household pets) are taken as "just because" things because they work for the story.
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    Mental toss flycoon JimmyB27's Avatar
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    I don't know, but I do know it's not over until the fat space-lady sings.
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  9. #9
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by williemeikle View Post
    As you'd expect, there's a Wiki for that :-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_opera



    IMHO Firefly is indeed Space Opera, and there's a list with it on it...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_opera_media

    • Star Trek (1966–present) created by Gene Roddenberry
    • Star Wars (1977–present) created by George Lucas [25]
    • Battlestar Galactica (1978–1979 and 2004–2009) created by Glen A. Larson & Ronald D. Moore[26][27][28]
    • Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985) created by Jeffrey Scott
    • Babylon 5 (1993–1998) created by J. Michael Straczynski [25]
    • The Chronicles of Riddick, characters by Ken Wheat and direction and universe by David Twohy.
    • Stargate (1994-2011[29]) created by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin
    • Farscape (1999–2003) created by Rockne S. O'Bannon[30]
    • Titan A.E. (1999) created by Ben Edlund, John August, and Joss Whedon
    • Andromeda (2000–2005) created by Gene Roddenberry
    • Firefly (2002) created by Joss Whedon
    I would also agree, I feel like space western and space opera often collide. Making things up but may i dare to say space western is a subset of space opera. I only said space western because that is what I've heard it categorized as.

    To OP, what characteristics did you think may make your story qualify as a space opera? Just curious. I think I saw you mention elsewhere about a space ship.
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  10. #10
    Creepy Centipede Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    My understanding, based on reading quite a few modern books described by their publishers, authors, and fans as "space opera" is that it's the sci-fi version of epic fantasy. Lots of characters, huge settings filled with sweeping adventures, generally very advanced technology, epic stakes (not a single life or ship, but entire worlds, civilizations, or even the fate of the universe itself in danger). It's definitely very soft on the science and romanticized. Like epic fantasy, space operas are usually series.

    Peter F. Hamilton is my favorite space opera writer. C.J. Cherryh wrote some good ones too.


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  11. #11
    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chasing the Horizon View Post
    My understanding, based on reading quite a few modern books described by their publishers, authors, and fans as "space opera" is that it's the sci-fi version of epic fantasy. Lots of characters, huge settings filled with sweeping adventures, generally very advanced technology, epic stakes (not a single life or ship, but entire worlds, civilizations, or even the fate of the universe itself in danger). It's definitely very soft on the science and romanticized. Like epic fantasy, space operas are usually series.

    Peter F. Hamilton is my favorite space opera writer. C.J. Cherryh wrote some good ones too.
    I think the comparison to epic and high fantasy is extremely valid.

  12. #12
    figuring it all out JoGrix's Avatar
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    I don't think it's a space opera. I posted some of the beginning on SYW here (The Omega) and there was some comparison with a space opera. I'm asking because every time I read the suggestion that it could be a space opera, I kept thinking this isn't a space opera, but since I really didn't understand what a space opera actually was, I thought I should ask before I get tetchy over the comparison.

    I want to write this as more of an action/adventure piece with some minor exploration into the different bonds that existed before the story begins and the ones that develop during. I'm trying not to write this as a drama because I show a noted tendency to get bored writing drama and thus the story ends up abandoned, I like light hearted fun and bad jokes. If anything, this is more a science fiction/ action/adventure/humor mix-up with a bit of romance, drama, and hurt/comfort thrown in for good measure.

    There is a spaceship, yes. The Omega by name, as well as a smaller "scout" ship, an enemy ship, a space station, two alien planets and Earth. The two planets have maybe three chapters between them, the enemy ship and scout ship share a chapter and a half, most of the action takes place on the Omega and depending on how much goes into it, Earth might not even appear until the half way point or later.

    I won't deny that Star Wars and StarTreck were big influences on this story. I love the kind of universe that allows a person to explore different cultures and planets with an overreaching setting. It's just that my characters for this story and it's probable sequals, they aren't the big heroes really. They aren't going to lead the big offenses and end the war. They aren't orphan farm boys or charasmatic starship captains. They're people caught in a war, fighting for things like their family and friends, and they are or have fought for their own planets and now they're being asked to defend one more planet that just happens to be Earth, helped out by a couple of young adults who accidentally on purpose became superheroes.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW areteus's Avatar
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    As I understood it, space opera can also be a situation where the tech level goes beyond Clarke's law - any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Basically, classic sci fi tends to have a heavy scientific basis behind it - sometimes based on the wildest theories of modern science but still within their remit. Space opera on the other hand has technology which is not covered by current science.

    So, things like FTL travel, time travel, blaster pistols, artificial intelligence etc.

    Another distinction is how they explain the technology. In most space opera the tech is taken for granted. It exists, deal with it we are not going to explain how it works. In sci fi there is often a lot of detail into how the science works, again usually based on current theories.

    So, consider the difference between any Brannon Braga Star Trek script (where time travel just happens because of, um, flange) and something like Gregory Benford's Timescape where there is a long and detailed explanation about how the phsyicists from the future are communicating with themselves in the past using a particle accelerator...

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW
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    It does sound a bit like a space opera. I'm curious now as to whether you don't want it to be one because you find the term derogatory.

  15. #15
    ageing savage dolores haze's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoGrix View Post
    I don't think it's a space opera.
    Sounds like space opera to me. It is so much fun to write. Run with it and have a blast!

  16. #16
    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    Space Opera did not begin as a term of praise, but after a while it got complicated. I suppose nowadays it's simply descriptive of a certain style. For SF fans with a nostalgic bent and a liking for high adventure, it is a complimentary term. It's a matter of taste. Personally I like a lot of old-timey SF, like Doc Smith's Lensman.

    Interesting essay on the history of the term: How Shit Became Shinola

    If "space opera" is not a term you are familiar with don't worry too much. SF is full of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres and hair-splitting arguments about how many editors of Astounding can dance on the head of a pin. It can be fun and informative, but trying to be or not be some label that is ill-defined and subjective to begin with is a waste of time (IMO).

    Just curious, who are your influences?
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  17. #17
    Resident Alien Reziac's Avatar
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    Space opera has come to mean, in a very broad way, SF which is primarily character-driven and where the science is just setting or vehicle (literally -- we get in the starship and go to the next planet without considering the tech, let alone inventing it).

    As contrasted to "hard SF" where the tech may be prominent and the science either shown in development or at least with mundanely-plausible roots, and where the sweep of events is more critical than who does the sweeping.

    [At this point I read mainly "space opera", having become very bored with "hard SF". At least per my broad definitions.]
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  18. #18
    Mildly Disturbing Filigree's Avatar
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    Brilliant article, Dave. As someone who began reading SF&F in the early seventies, I was conscious of but too young to analyze the del Reys' revolt against inner-space literary fiction. I knew that their books were just more fun for my young brain to read. I had to grow into New Wave fiction in my twenties.

    I still have a deep appreciation for space opera in all its forms, and am proud to call myself one of its hacks.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW
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    I agree with Reziac on seeing space opera as particularly character driven. I love me some space opera!

  20. #20
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Xothian Star-Spawn's Avatar
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    I always had Flash Gordon and other futuristic serials from the 30s in my mind concerning "Space Opera". Also Almuric, John Carter From Mars, usw.
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  21. #21
    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xothian Star-Spawn View Post
    I always had Flash Gordon and other futuristic serials from the 30s in my mind concerning "Space Opera". Also Almuric, John Carter From Mars, usw.
    If you want to be picky, Almuric, John Carter and Leigh Brackett's Mars/Skaith stories are more Sword & Planet. The aesthetic is similar, but the setting tends to be a science-fictional fantasy world, with castles, princesses in need of rescue, Lost Races (Rider Haggard on Mars), where Space Opera heroes zoom from planet to planet with inter-stellar galacticdimensional warships the size of a moon planet solar-system. Doc Smith & Ed Hamilton were noted practitioners of that style.

    Like I said, it's similar, but Sword & Planet tends to rely on the "planet" setting, where Space Opera uses more "space". I daresay they mesh pretty well, Brackett & Hamilton especially.

    Right now there's a bit of a revival in Sword & Planet, though maybe more at a grass-roots level. Chris Roberson's Paragaea is good, recent example. Of course just to introduce a new term, it's billed as a "Planetary Romance"!
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  22. #22
    Mildly Disturbing Filigree's Avatar
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    (Hits side of head.) Sword & Planet, aka Planetary Romance. So that's what I write. Nice to know. My agent, of course, tells me to pipe down and just call it 'fantasy'.

  23. #23
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dryad View Post
    I agree with Reziac on seeing space opera as particularly character driven. I love me some space opera!
    Me too. I wish there was more of that kind of space adventure SF around these days.
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  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    Awesome.


    I especially like it when it's of the adventure in space variety. It's even better if there's magic in addition to technology. I want to write that kind of Space Opera, but I want to make sure it's not too much like Star Wars. Still working on that...

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    Resident Alien Reziac's Avatar
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    Well, I have what looks like magic if you don't know what's going on, will that do?
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