Space Opera

Perry Rhodan
Perry Rhodan, from the highly popular German space opera series of the same name.

Space Opera is one of those things that’s easily recognizable but difficult to articulate. On social media, such as the Space Opera forum on Facebook, it’s not uncommon for a new person to come along and innocently ask for a definition, little knowing the firestorm of posts and arguments that will be unleashed. Basically it is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms “soap opera” and “horse opera”, the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and they continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, and video games.

In the space opera worldbuilding narrative, certain tropes and themes so frequently re-occur in epic science fiction that you could draw up a list describing the “standard SF universe“, as has been done on the TV Tropes website. Here we find mentioned themes such as a star-spanning or galactic Federation or equivalent, made possible by easy faster than light travel (jump gates,warp drive, jump-drive, hyperspace, etc); the peace enforced by space navies based on the Battle of Jutland (capital ships only) or alternatively the War in the Pacific (carriers and fighters), peopled by space marines and ship crews; the galaxy peopled by humans (terrans) sometimes assisted by android helpers, co-existing with various alien factions such as the proud warrior race, wise spiritual race, erotic blue or green-skinned space babes, and mysterious precursors or elder race; explorers seeking out new worlds, prospectors hoping to strike it lucky with an asteroid claim, with rebels and smugglers under the noses of the authorities, hostile governments and space pirates as ever-present threats, a sinister or genocidal enemy alien from beyond known space, and epic space battles where the future hangs in the balance.

In terms of realism, Space Opera ranges the whole gamut from Science Fantasy to Hard SF, depending on the author and the setting.