What is Space Opera?


Ask ten people what space opera is and you’ll either get a blank stare or a different answer in each response. What is space opera and how does it fit into Romance lit? Let’s tackle the first question. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Here are some contemporary examples that you might recognize:

1. Star Wars
2. Babylon 5
3. The Dune series
4. Firefly

Are you getting the idea, now? Of course there are much less well known and more definitive space opera examples. Generally, the genre fans all agree that the father of space opera was E.E. “Doc” Smith. The very first space opera was Skylark of Space (Gutenberg edition) written somewhere around 1915-1924. But it’s generally agreed that it was 1934 when The Lensman series began when Space Opera got traction. Thats a little obscure and you don’t need to read Lensman to get an idea of what it is, you know what Space Opera is. You just may not have given it a name before now. But what’s the difference between space opera and SciFi?

Here’s a short list of space opera elements:

1. A flawed hero(ine)
2. A Princess or Prince
3. Scale
4. A means by which to travel either through Space or Time

And of course there’s Space which isn’t necessarily scale and being in space doesn’t naturally qualify as Space Opera. You have to have epic scale. Whether on a ship or in a far away galaxy, you’re not in Kansas anymore in a space opera. There is usually no science in a space opera. For some it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure and that’s where the Romance Genre and SciFi cross – in Space.

What about SciFi Romance? What’s the difference there? Very little. In SFR you may not have an epic world build. In a series like Solar Flame, the world build comes slowly through the stories and not all at once.

The princess or prince needs saving. There’s an evil, yet muscularly ripped villain. The hero saves our damsel. Sounds a lot like a Perils of Pauline or historical romance scenario, right? There might be a “mothership” or a cause that needs fixin’ instead of an evil moustachioed villain. The hero is nearly always flawed and is on the redemption trail. Depending on the author, you may have steamy or sweet romance in the genre crossers.

That’s it, that’s what I have to say about Space Opera and SFR, except…

If a bodice rips in space, can you hear the shuddered sigh?