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Is Science Fiction Just Space Opera?

Updated on June 10, 2012
By FRacco [LGPL (], via Wikimedia Commons
By FRacco [LGPL (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

While people may claim to scorn science fiction and consider it space opera, there are more people who love it than not. This is clear if you look at the All-Time USA Boxoffice listing on IMDB. Within the top ten movies in the United States, six of them are science fiction ( Ten of the top twenty-five are. With numbers like that, it’s clear that even if people call it space opera, they still love it.

The same people who claim that science fiction is all space opera are more heavily influence by science fiction than they know. They’re the same people who go to see “Jurassic Park” and wait anxiously for “X-Files” to be released on DVD. Comic strips like “Heart of the City” makes numerous references to science fiction and fantasy, and the readers obviously get them or the strip would have failed by now. Going over to “the dark side” is part of everyday language, and anyone who says “May the force be will you” knows its origin. Similarly, even people who didn’t watch Star Trek know about it -- it has become part of the culture, not just part of the science fiction world.

Personally, I’m not sure that it’s worth convincing people that science fiction is more than just big-budget movies with special effects. Action-thrillers are normally just blood and guts movies with minimal plots, and romance always ends with a kiss, so why does science fiction have to be more? It is, of course, more, and that is one reason to defend it. While science fiction was “once described as a fad for immature male adolescents, [it] is now recognized as a vehicle by which writers can analyze social, current political, and scientific trends and their possible outcomes” (Suter 6). The Time Machine and War of the Worlds by Wells make this clear, but science fiction being used for analysis is also found in later books, especially ones like Fahrenheit 451 and Red Mars. Both take probing looks at society and changes that can and may occur, examining both political problems that may never go away and societal pressures that are building. Other examples of authors that can be seen as breaking the adolescent fantasy assumption are Huxley with Brave New World, Orwell with 1984, Shelley with Frankenstein, Brunner with Sheep Look Up, Harrison with Make Room! Make Room!, and Effinger with When Gravity Fails. For movies,

“Contact” is a perfect example of a movie that does not rely on too many special effects, but instead uses more cerebral means to convince us that there may be more there than we know or can see.

Science fiction can be seen as being closely related to fantasy because of the number of unscientific possibilities that are examined. Often, magic plays a role in a science fiction book when the author is not sure of the hard facts of science. Science fiction books can be action packed, like many of Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series, but it can also be very politically influenced, like Wells’ War of the Worlds. In some cases, science fiction is considered literature, such as with Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World. All four books are definitely science fiction, yet all four are read in mainstream English classes in high schools around the country.


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