4 Comments

Opera: To Infinity, and Beyond!

I mustn't forget one of my favorite space operas: Schlock Mercenary!

I mustn’t forget one of my favorite space operas: Schlock Mercenary!

Space and Opera seem to be an improbable pairing. Opera, a form of entertainment popularly known for being high-brow, and involving the ‘fat lady singing’ and the genre we refer to as space opera with the exploding spaceships and exotic galactic locales. So how did they come to meet, like chocolate and peanut butter? What is the origin of the phrase, as the earliest origins of space opera, and certainly today, involve no ladies (fat or otherwise) singing?

Last week, at the Mad Genius Club and later on my blog, I provoked a discussion on what Hard Science Fiction is, whether it is still relevant, and finally, a list of 18 Twenty-First Century Hard SF books recommended by those who read the genre. It was truly fascinating to me to see not only that there are varying opinions on what makes a science fiction tale ‘hard’ – that I had expected – but to see that some, indeed, many, have no real distinction of subgenres within science fiction.

If I had to break science fiction into parts, there would be three of them (yes, I know that I don’t have to, but you see, there’s this heart of a librarian which rumor has I keep in a jar on my desk…) comprised of Hard Science Fiction, Space Opera, and military science fiction. Or maybe not. Eyes list. I think I could take that further… but today is not the day.

Space opera, according to that trove of wisdom, TV Tropes, is:

“A space opera is a work set in a far future space faring civilization, where the technology is ubiquitous and entirely secondary to the story. It has an epic character to it: The universe is big, there are lots of sprawling civilizations and empires, there are political conflicts and intrigues galore. Frequently it takes place in the Standard Sci Fi Setting. In perspective, it is a development of the Planetary Romance that looks beyond the exotic locations that were imagined for the local solar system in early science fiction (which the hard light of science revealed to be barren and lifeless) out into an infinite universe of imagined exotic locations.

Space opera has a lot of romantic elements: big love stories, epic space battles, oversized heroes and villains, awe-inspiring places, and insanely gorgeous women.”

So how does this have anything to do with, well, Otello, or Mozart, or… any of the singing ladies? The answer is that it didn’t originally. Between Space Opera and old-fashioned ladies belting it out before swooning gaily, is another step. The derisive terms of ‘horse opera’ and ‘soap opera’ lent more to space opera than Wagner’s Valkyries.

The term Horse Opera predates Soap Opera by about a decade, and was first recorded in 1927, Soaps, of course, got their name from the soap companies that paid for the programmes to promote their products. The thing they have in common is the use – some would say over use, of clichés, tropes, and audience expectations. Hold onto that last, we’ll get back to it.

Opera lends the grand, the epic, the melodramatic aspect to all of these genres. They are bound together with the common thread of plots that are over the top, improbable, and far greater in many cases than the everyday man will ever face. From saving the honor of their family, to saving the town, to saving the galaxy, and beyond!

commodore grimes

Space Opera: the art of the improbable

Wilson Tucker coined the term space opera intending it as a pejorative. As so many others before have done, the weary unwashed who want stories to escape the workaday drudge seized on the term and made it their own. Millions now thrill to the space opera on the big screens, and demand authors to write more of their favorites. Far from being an insult, space opera is now big business. Audiences expect to have fun when they hear the term space opera. They don’t expect the author or movie maker to ‘count the rivets’ in the story, the science is very much in the background. With some space opera, you need to hang your suspension of disbelief out the nearest window, lean back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Popular opinion has always been in favor of having fun. Indeed, as we see with the popularity of science fiction, in particular space opera, which is regarded as playful and enjoyable, unlike the more science-accurate Hard SF, people don’t mind learning a little with their entertainment. When the stories of Doc Smith gave way to the silver screen, Space Opera was there, going where no man had gone before. It made perhaps the greatest impact on global culture with the hit success of the Star Wars trilogy in the 1970s. It is certainly not going away anytime soon, even if detractors still try to cut it down.

So what’s your favorite space opera? What do you look forward to when you hear the term? Spaceships, rayguns, and singing ladies. Oh, no, wait, not that last…

Advertisements

About Cedar Sanderson

Writer, mother, reader, gardener, cook… artist.

4 comments on “Opera: To Infinity, and Beyond!

  1. My all time favorite space opera is Firefly and the follow on movie, Serenity.

    Still blows me away all these years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Spaceships, rayguns, daring heroes and heroines, dastardly villains, space cowboys, and swordplay just touch the tip of the space opera iceberg.

    It’s where dazzling future technologies can live side-by-side with medieval-style societies and weapons.

    It’s where the courage and dedication of a single person can change the fate of civilizations or the fate of a single person desperately in need of help.

    It’s where heroes and heroines overcome great odds to emerge victorious.

    It’s where true love conquers all.

    It’s where story is everything and honor is the only message.

    It’s where I went to escape from the horrors of middle school and high school.

    It’s what attracted me to science fiction in the first place.

    And, bringing this full circle, it’s what I write.

    From John Carter to Luke Skywalker, from the Lensmen to K’da poet warriors*, they are part of my soul. I cannot choose a favorite among.

    * If you don’t recognize that reference, get thee forth to this link forthwith:
    http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Thief-First-Dragonback-Adventure-ebook/dp/B001OD6K9W

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Space Opera, to infinity and beyond!!

    Like

  4. […] into subgenres? Well, I’m not, really. This started with the Hard SF discussion, rolled into Space Opera, and now I’m bordering on fantasy. Although I don’t plan to delve into that genre until […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: