ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What is Space Opera?

Updated on April 18, 2014

Not all sci-fi is set out here

although space is the first thing most people think of when you mention science fiction it's not all set in space.
although space is the first thing most people think of when you mention science fiction it's not all set in space. | Source

The first kind everyone thinks of

When you mention the science fiction genre to most people the first thing that will pop into their heads are shows like “Star Trek” or Star Wars. While these are examples of sci-fi they are a subset of the genre often called space opera that is set apart from the rest of the genre in several ways. What makes space opera different from the rest of science fiction? Why has it been so much better at capturing the imagination of the general public than other subsets of sci-fi?

Start with the obvious

It probably seems like a no brainer to say that space opera is set in space. It must be noted though that the setting is never a single alien world, that would be a planetary adventure. In space opera if the characters don't actually live on their spacecraft they certainly seem to spend more time there than at home. As a result of the migratory lifestyle of space opera characters the worlds they visit are often not explored in great detail. Some space opera characters barely even set foot on planets instead their time might be spent moving freight from world to world or protecting those who do. When characters in this sub genre do visit a world it's often just long enough to solve a particular crisis. Civilizations visited are often not explored in any detail, often only a single alien community is visited, though it may be represented as an exemplar for the entire species. The language barrier with an alien race may be explored especially in novels where the process can be summarized in a few sentences. In T.V. and movies however, unless the language barrier is important to the plot, some kind of translation device is assumed, the learning process is glossed over or the issue is outright ignored. In an ongoing series any linguistic difficulties may receive mention in a single episode and be assumed to happen “Off camera,” the rest of the time. Likewise the alien-ness of other worlds is often glossed over. Slight differences in gravity or atmosphere may be mentioned but usually only briefly and are seldom shown to impact the characters. Sometimes a world will even be reduced to a single environmental type. While this is criticized as unrealistic by some there are real examples, Europa is a real ice world for example as was Earth during our most extreme ice ages.

Travel at the speed of plot

the famous Enterprise from the original Star Trek
the famous Enterprise from the original Star Trek | Source

It gets around

A natural corollary to the planet hopping nature of space opera stories is the almost universal existence of some kind of faster than light travel. Warp drive, hyperspace, jump drive, star-gates, are all means storytellers have used to get their characters around. Though some lip service may be paid to equating the speed of the travel method with some real world speed but most often the characters travel at whatever speed the plot dictates. Sometimes a space opera like “Firefly” will portray a setting without faster than light travel but this either necessitates a single solar system or excessive travel time. Regardless of the means of travel a storyteller uses, unless the story is specifically set aboard a ship in transit, travel time is often simply glossed over or bridged with one or two scenes.

No robot overlords here

Space opera usually puts the electronic minds subservient to their creators
Space opera usually puts the electronic minds subservient to their creators | Source

What usually isn't there

Regardless of how much space opera characters use computers, artificial intelligences are considerably less prominent in this sub genre than others. Electronic minds might be rare (if not completely unique) or entirely absent. In the rare cases where artificial entities are common they are somehow deficient in comparison to organic minds. Whether it be how the Droids of Star Wars which are mostly brilliant in limited fields but deficient elsewhere or how the titular Andromeda from “Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda” required a living pilot to travel faster than light, or Asimov's laws. Something is used to keep the machines subservient. Only rarely do you find a space opera like “Schlock Mercenary” which depicts A.I. as relatively common and in most ways superior to their creators but who for ethical and legal reasons haven't superseded their organic leaders (usually).

Why is it so popular?

So what about space opera gives it the power to capture our imagination so much? Why is it the first kind of story most people think about when science fiction is mentioned? Granted there have been some famous examples in the mass media. However famous space opera like “Star Trek” and Star Wars haven't been the only mass media attempts at sci-fi but these space operas have been the ones to gain the most traction. One would assume that other sub-genre would be easier to produce for television or film. Time travel stories could use existing costumes and set dressing. Near future needs cosmetic tweaks to existing locations to make them look futuristic. The desolate landscape of Americas southwest makes an excellent backdrop for a post apocalyptic story. Space opera requires all kinds of effects to show the ships flying and depict alien worlds. One might assume that from a production cost standpoint space opera would be one of the hardest to sell to a studio. Strangely stories in other sub-genre have been fairly successful in print but haven't been able to make the transition. Yet not only has space opera sold it has sometimes thrived. Some of this is no doubt a product of the few spectacular successes that have occurred. As soon as anything does well it will spawn a host of imitators some of which might be good enough to enjoy success of their own.

Scope

Another reason for the sub-genres success may be it's scope. A near future story must abide by whatever basic principals they began with. A time travel story can only travel in time. Space opera has a much broader area to work with. A space opera cast can visit a world where A.I. are in charge or travel in time without it having an impact on the larger universe in which their stories are set. This allows space opera to delve into the territory of most other types of sci-fi if only briefly.

Hope

Finally space opera is among the most hopeful type of science fiction. Whatever problems the characters in space opera may face they are shown as humans facing them. The characters aren't post apocalyptic mutants or cyborgs (if they can help it). Whether they are set in the future or across the universe their advanced technology shows they have weathered whatever crisis we are facing. They haven't been uploaded to computers or become enslaved to them. Indeed the characters in space opera are cast in the mold of humanities heroic archetypes. Swashbucklers and gunslingers have both found a new home in the sub-genre for example. Last but not least the genre demonstrates that there are still new frontiers to explore and blank edges of the map to fill in.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)