If you’re picturing alien individuals belting out Wagner in a futuristic opera house, I applaud you, but regret to inform you that you’re off the mark. (However, if you want to insert this scenario into a Space Opera, go right ahead, and then please let me know, because that would be an entertaining read.)
Space Opera as a genre is often difficult to precisely define, but at its core, it’s an epic adventure on a grand scope, involving multiple planets, much adventure, and a wide variety of characters and story lines.
It is not opera in the vein of ‘stories told on stage through singing’, but rather takes its name from the term ‘soap opera’, because of the dramatic adventures and derring-do involved.
Adventure on a grand scale, family sagas playing out across multiple planets/star systems and governments, romance, war, rebellions, endings where the ‘good guys’ win, hairsbreadth escapes, lots of explosions
Star Wars is still one of the the best known examples of Space Opera. Others include: Firefly, the Lensman series – E. E. Smith, Babylon 5, the Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold, the Japanese anime Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Guardians of the Galaxy (MCU movies), and the Skolian Saga – Catherine Asaro
Space Opera crosses over with a lot of other genres, including Science Fantasy and Military Sci-Fi. In these cases, Space Opera often more correctly describes the scope of the story.
For example, Star Wars is Science Fantasy, because of the elements present, but it’s also Space Opera because of the sheer scale and the story lines involved.
It’s often hard to ascertain exactly what kind of stories fall into Space Opera and which ones don’t. I’ve heard argument for Dune being on the list, while others argue that Dune is primarily a Planetary Romance (I believe the latter to be technically correct). Others argue that Star Wars can’t go on the Space Opera list, being properly classified only Science Fantasy– which I disagree with. John Carter of Mars has also sometimes been described as Space Opera, but is more correctly Planetary Romance.
The deciding factor often comes down to planets. In Space Opera, the story ranges over a wide variety of worlds, and often features conflicts not just between two planets, but between space empires or leagues.
When written well, it can be one of the most delicious of all genres to read, one of those where there is truly ‘something (or someone) for everyone’, whether you like the high adventure of Star Wars or prefer a bit more politics and psychology, as in Babylon 5.
It’s definitely one of my most favorite sub-genres ever.
What are your favorite Space Opera stories?
Merry Writing… and may all your Space Opera be magnificent!