I want to build up my own notes on space opera, which I have been thinking about. At the moment I don’t have a definition for it, but I do have some basic conditions for a work to be considered space opera. These are that:
- we are in space – the action must take place primarily off-world (i.e. in space, on a spaceship, on a space station);
- we are not alone – when our heroes step into space they find a galaxy that is teeming with life, that is populated by large and varied cultures (these may be made of many species or could just be human);
- we are in grave peril – everything takes places on a grand scale and there is a large amount of drama involved (ie the universe is at stake or similar); and
- we need to do something – the protagonist in our story acts to change things, save the universe etc, and does so knowingly.
I am still convincing myself that these are the prerequisites for space opera, but I think they’re close. Space opera stories are space adventures that involve the highest stakes, both on a personal and on a broader level.
What do I consider to be a space opera? Well, E. E. “Doc” Smith and his Lensman, half of what A. E. van Vogt wrote, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War books, Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta novels, C.J. Cherryh’s Chanur books, and some of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels.
What do I think are not space operas? This is almost so broad as to be meaningless, but Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, most of Heinlein, Dune, and a lot more.