Hmm, I Wonder, Am I Really Right About Space Opera?
The general trend of the comments was that it was actually the other way around, that science fiction, with the possible exception of near-future dystopia, has become the poor relation of fantasy in all its various expressions—the big fantasy epics, steampunk, and vampire fiction—on the shelf. (Rowena’s original point was slightly different, relating to science fiction still fundamentally being more respectable than fantasy, i.e. ‘science’—if not always “as we know it, Jim”—not ‘magic’ based.)
In response to Paul’s observation that: “Since 2001, the future that seems to be ahead of us in the real world has gotten progressively darker, grittier and less appealing. It’s been more difficult to come up with an appealing future for SF. While SF is not predictive, the starting conditions have been more and more bleak to work with” … and that fantasy offered a “way out of the trap.”
I in turn replied: “the premise about bleakness does not hold so well, I feel, if one applies it to space opera. That is effectively “fantasy in space” but has been fading at much the same rate as more science based predictive SF …”
But since then I’ve been thinking—hey, hold on a minute, am I really right about this? When I was thinking about space opera I was thinking about the old EE Doc Smith, westerns-in-space variety, which has by and large died out (but—Firefly, anybody?) Space Opera itself though… When I actually sat down and thought about it, there’s John Scalzi (Old Man’s War, Redshirts), Peter F Hamilton (The Reality Dysfunction et al) Iain M Banks and his Culture novels, Alastair Reynolds (Revelation Space) not to mention Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief (which I reported on here) all of who are currently writing what I would term space opera. (Note: I know this is not an exhaustive list, I’ve left off Ken McLeod for example–who else?)
Do I have a definition of ‘space opera’—well yes I do and its pretty loose (like space opera itself, he-he), but mainly I think of ‘space opera’ as involving adventures in space, preferably with space ships and things like warp drives (or an equivalent), where the overall idea is loosely science based but not in a way that would prevent the story happening, and some of the themes can be pretty serious, and often it’s about telling big stories but it doesn’t has to be, and yes sometimes there is ‘magic’ but we dress it up as science and everyone is happy… And it definitely doesn’t have to be a western lookalike but if you call it Firefly then it probably is—a western that is, and space opera, to boot!
So I think I may just have revised my thoughts from a week back and decided that in fact space opera is still very much with is… Whether it’s as big as Fantasy though, I don’t know… What do you think?
OK, OK, I did notice something else when I was putting together my non-exhaustive list of contemporary space opera authors—any guesses? There will be a secret spot prize for the first person who guesses right. (I promise to be honest.)