The New New Space Opera

Science fiction is not a genre. The most successful literary tradition of the 20th century is as impossible to neatly categorise as the alien life forms it sometimes imagines. But “sci-fi” does contain genres. The rigorous scientific speculation of Hard SF. The techno-cynicism of Cyberpunk, or its halfwit cousin Steampunk. The pulp fictions of Planetary romance and the dark visions of the sci-fi Post-Apocalypse. These genres flow in and out of fashion like the solar winds. After years condemned to the outer darkness of secondhand bookshops, Space Opera is once again exciting the imagination of sci-fi fans.

At the box office Guardians of the Galaxy has resurrected the kind of camp space adventure made popular by Flash Gordon, while on the printed page Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie has scooped the prestigious double honour of Hugo and Nebula awards. Stories of space exploration have never lacked popularity. In the early 20th century when it was still possible to think space might be crowded with alien civilisations, stories like EE “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series were immensely popular. But as we probed the reality of outer space we found only infinities of inert matter and a barren solar system.

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4 thoughts on “The New New Space Opera”

  1. I would love to see a coherent definition of “space opera.” I thought the subgenre referred to stories (usually a series of volumes) that spans many locations in space as well as many decades/centuries). yes?

    I would also like to understand why you call steam punk Cyberpunk’s “Halfwit” cousin! Very funny.

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  2. Nice article. I think it’s interesting to see how politics play out in science fiction, possibly more so than any other genre, precisely because the writer’s agenda is “hidden” by analogy. Sci Fi itself is a proxy war in the Cold War of the Culture Wars.

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    1. Nice. And yes, true. Kelly Link says scifi writers have an advantage because they know they are working with analogy. Although, I think that’s somehow become obscured by the idea of immersion and worldbuilding in scifi writing now.

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  3. At the box office Guardians of the Galaxy has resurrected the kind of camp space adventure made popular by Flash Gordon, while on the printed page Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie has scooped the prestigious double honour of Hugo and Nebula awards. Stories of space exploration have never lacked popularity. In the early 20th century when it was still possible to think space might be crowded with alien civilisations, stories like EE “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series were immensely popular. But as we probed the reality of outer space we found only infinities of inert matter and a barren solar system.

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