This week on Subgenre Study we examine the science fiction subgenre of the space opera, a subgenre of adventure that tends to have more in common with most fantasy than other science fiction subgenres. (I managed to get the word subgenre in that sentence four times.)
Kit, you say, what are you talking about? Space Opera takes place in the far future and is often full of strange aliens and stranger landscapes. What do you mean it’s closer to fantasy than other science fiction?
Well, it depends on your definition of science fiction. I’d like to tell you there is a tried and true way to tell what is scifi, and better yet, where the line is between scifi and fantasy, but alas, it is not to be. The lines are too fuzzy.
But let’s look at science fiction in general. Science fiction tends to take place in the near to far future, involve technology that does not currently exist, and tries to extrapolate what society will be like in the future. Check, check, and check, right? But what separates space opera is that plot and character is what is most important, and setting is part of the background. It’s not space adventures, it’s adventures in space.
In a lot of space opera, technology is there, but how it works is unimportant. No character in Star Wars ever explains how hyperspace works. It just does. The characters tend to take it for granted. There’s no science to back it up, and no one cares. What you care about are things like the characters, whatever their quest is, and the other people/governments/species they deal with. And alien species don’t need to be biologically possible either as long as they’re interesting.
That’s why I say it’s closer to fantasy, except you’ve Klingons instead of Dwarves and instead of stopping the evil wizard and his legions of the undead, you’ve got to stop the evil Emperor and his clone soldiers.
That’s not to say that space opera isn’t real science fiction. It is. Like all science fiction, the author/creator does need to look into the future and think about where the human race will have ended up, or picture what will come to pass if some event in the future occurs. A future with a nuclear-based World War III will be different from a future where Canada comes to their senses and takes over the entire world with politeness.
What are your recommendations for good space opera, Squiders? How do you feel about it?