Ben Wilson, Author

5 December 2022

Thoughts on Space Opera

I’m a member of the IASFA (International Association of Science Fiction Authors). We’re focused on helping readers find other great Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. In the spirit of 20 Books, we recognize our only competition is our last book. Anyway, they asked me to write about Space Opera for the December newsletter.

In Space Opera, nobody can hear the fat lady sing. Or, something like that. It’s a genre of epic proportions where technology takes a back seat to the story. We can have a one-biome planet because it does not matter. (Who doesn’t like sand?) Like epic fantasy, it’s a chance to see a world in peril and a few heros who struggle against the odds to defeat evil.

It was the popularity of two space operas–Star Trek and Star Wars–that infused new life in the genre for readers in the 60s and 70s. While the visual impact of science fiction on both large and small screen is appealing, I agree with Orson Card’s observation that the novel is the better medium. In written space opera, you can get into the characters’ head–think and feel what they experience. You can see yourself in their place.

While I started reading when Star Wars came out, it was not until my 20s when I came to appreciate the genre. Many will cite Dune or the Honor Harrington series as their go-to books in the genre, so I will jump to a different star system. I loved the late Iain M. Bank’s Culture series with its absurd take on ultra-tech while considering a world where resource scarcity does not exist. Come to think of it, my mind also runs to Adams’ Hitchhikers series, where an infinite universe produces a sentient mattress. It’s the humor in the genre that I find the most appealing.

Space opera gives authors a broad canvas to paint what they want, and perhaps explore an aspect of the human condition in a less confrontational light such as Longyear’s Enemy Mine series. The genre usually includes many different types of characters with a wide range of personalities, motivations, skillsets, and backgrounds. This makes it possible for writers to create complex plots with many twists and turns in them. We can explore a myriad of themes, such as you find in Orson Card’s Ender series, or Kevin Steverson’s Salvage Title trilogy. Where it overlaps with military science fiction, I really enjoyed Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series.