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Space opera

Space Opera is subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic adventure, faster-than-light travel and space battles where the main storyline is interstellar conflict.

"Space opera" was originally a derogatory term, a variant of "horse opera[?]" and "soap opera". Wilson Tucker[?] suggested the term in 1941. It meant action-oriented tale of space adventure instead of "respectable" science fiction story that concentrated on effects of technological progress and inventions. However there is no sharp dividing line and many authors manage to combine the space adventure and the respectable elements, ensuring that the best written space opera is represented among the best of science fiction generally.

Originators of the first space opera stories were E. E. Smith, with his Skylark and Lensman series; Edmond Hamilton; Jack Williamson[?]; John W. Campbell; and later Leigh Brackett.

The scientific veracity of various backgrounds varies. In some cases, the only violation of the known laws of physics is the faster-than-light travel. At the other end of the scale, protagonists use various mystical powers and destroy whole planets and alien species. Star Wars, with its Death Stars and Force powers is close to the original pulp science fiction[?].

Character development and description varies as well. Lois McMaster Bujold and Iain M. Banks write about very human conflicts.

A popular subset of space opera stories concentrate on large-scale space battles with futuristic weapons. Some of them take their military tone and weapon system technology very seriously. See Military Science Fiction[?].

Many science fiction writers use variants of space opera background with less military fervor and planet-busting xenophobia. In its best, it is a speculation about future war in space or effects of war on humans. At its worst it consists of the use of non-science fiction plots in a superficially SF background.

Many of the TV science fiction series from Battlestar Galactica to Star Trek are variants of space opera. Harry Harrison and Douglas Adams parody space opera clichés. Fritz Leiber's Wanderer tells a story about a situation when Earth sees one episode of interstellar conflict. Others, like Samuel R. Delany in Nova, refer to mythological concepts.

Sample space opera backgrounds

Also see Galactic Empire


  • Dave Langford: Fun With Senseless Violence

Space Opera is also a role-playing game created by Edward E. Simbalist, A. Mark Ratner, and Phil McGregor for Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1981. Many other SF RPGs like Space master[?] of late Iron Crown Enterprises and Dying Suns[?] use space opera backgrounds.

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