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Old 05-02-2014, 09:05 PM   #1
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In SciFi - what is a space opera & give some titles?

My wife and I are playing tourist in Seattle. Near the Space Needle is the EMP museum which has a Music + SciFi exhibit going on. (Think Daliaks next to Jimmy Hendricks - strange).

In the book store they had several racks of SciFi books with labels on each shelf describing the books. One of the racks held "Space Opera" and several titles my wife did not recognize.

"What is a Space Opera?" she asked me. To my shame, I could not honestly define it. I guessed it might mean a story that involves sweeping epic events or a story involving saving the universe.

The next morning I brought up Google and asked: "What is a space opera". I got several results but this first one bothered me:

Quote:
space op·er·a
noun NORTH AMERICAN informal
a novel, movie, or television program set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature.
I was a bit offended at the term "simplistic", but I kept digging.

I found this page that I cheerfully read to my wife until she laughed so hard she snorted her Starbucks out her nose (did I mention we are in Seattle?)

http://io9.com/5965187/top-ten-rules-of-space-opera

(Can someone tell me what story they were thinking of when saying a sassy stowaway is needed?)

The page was fun and included movie and TV show pictures, but did not include titles. But kept mentioning "melodrama". Perhaps I do not understand "melodrama" but I still cannot define what books are space operas (Ok, "Star Wars", "Foundation", are epics but too obvious.)

Please: List your favorite one or two space operas and tell me what makes them space operas. Feel free to use the "ten rules" page if you want.
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Old 05-02-2014, 10:04 PM   #2
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The Expanse Series by James S.A. Corey (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank)
  1. Leviathan Wakes
  2. Caliban's War
  3. Abaddon's Gate

David Weber's Honor Harrington Series (15 or 16 books)

David Drake's RCN series (9? books)

A. Bertram Chandler's John Grimes Saga (12+ books)

That should get you started, but if you need more here's a reddit thread with a bunch more.

Edit: And another really good list.

Last edited by jgaiser; 05-02-2014 at 10:20 PM.
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Old 05-02-2014, 10:07 PM   #3
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Key requirements of Space Opera:

Massive space-ships.
Lots of space-ships.
Massive collisions and explosions.

I nominate Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks as a perfect example. It's super intelligent, too. Space Opera need not be shallow.
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Old 05-02-2014, 10:18 PM   #4
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I wouldn't agree with those ten rules. That just seems too tongue-in-cheek, and I think that space opera has evolved into a more respectable genre than just mere melodrama.

To me, space opera is an story arc that lasts for at least three books, involves primarily a non-Earth setting (though Earth/Terra might be a secondary/tertiary/or-merely-referenced setting), involves multiple subplots, is set in a well-defined socio-economic-political system or systems, and the plots and characters evolve as time progresses. There is usually some basic conflict - cultural misunderstandings and/or bigotry, political unrest, interstellar conflict, clan/family disputes, etc. There are elements of romance to it, but usually in the sense that when you're following characters over years of their lives, personal attachments do happen with all the associated joys and miseries.

A successful space opera gets me invested in the characters and the created universe. They become real to me and I want to find out "what happens next".

Examples:
David Weber's Honor Harrington Series
David Weber & John Ringo's Empire of Man series
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller's Liaden Universe series
Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire
Karen Traviss' Wess'har series
Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series
Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series
C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series
Kristine Smith's Jani Kilian series
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Old 05-02-2014, 10:30 PM   #5
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Nathan Lowell's Golden Age of the Solar Clippers series seems to get categorized as space opera by Amazon. Basically you have a young man who's thrust unexpectedly into a life onboard a cargo ship, and has to adjust to life that way. You're not going to get the big space battles that some might say are necessary for a space opera, but I think the first book is worth picking up and reading to see if you like it. If you do, the rest of the series makes for a good read.
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Old 05-02-2014, 10:37 PM   #6
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Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. (And I second the rec for Corey.)
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Old 05-02-2014, 11:01 PM   #7
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If you want some old school space opera you could give Doc Smith's Skylark or Lensmen series' a go. Other old school stuff to consider Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle (Dorsai), A. Bertram Chandler's Rim World series and Poul Anderson's Flandry series.
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Old 05-02-2014, 11:02 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Xanthe View Post
To me, space opera is an story arc that lasts for at least three books, involves primarily a non-Earth setting (though Earth/Terra might be a secondary/tertiary/or-merely-referenced setting), involves multiple subplots, is set in a well-defined socio-economic-political system or systems, and the plots and characters evolve as time progresses. There is usually some basic conflict - cultural misunderstandings and/or bigotry, political unrest, interstellar conflict, clan/family disputes, etc. There are elements of romance to it, but usually in the sense that when you're following characters over years of their lives, personal attachments do happen with all the associated joys and miseries.

A successful space opera gets me invested in the characters and the created universe. They become real to me and I want to find out "what happens next".
That almost perfectly describes Game of Thrones.
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Old 05-02-2014, 11:31 PM   #9
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A space opera gets its name from 'soap opera.' They are more sophisticated now than in earlier decades. They are separate - in principle at least - from hard science fiction.

The original Star Trek TV series is a simple example of a space opera.
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Old 05-03-2014, 01:11 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FacebookVirus View Post
A space opera gets its name from 'soap opera.' They are more sophisticated now than in earlier decades. They are separate - in principle at least - from hard science fiction.

The original Star Trek TV series is a simple example of a space opera.
And Star Wars is an example as well.
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Old 05-03-2014, 02:44 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by FacebookVirus View Post
A space opera gets its name from 'soap opera.' They are more sophisticated now than in earlier decades. They are separate - in principle at least - from hard science fiction.

The original Star Trek TV series is a simple example of a space opera.
Western movies used to be referred to jokingly as "horse operas", and I thought that the term "space opera" just extended from that. Early space operas were more or less the same as Western movies, but situated in space rather than on the range. The plots were pretty much the same.

I wouldn't call the original Star Trek series a soap opera though. It may have been dramatic and theatrical in style (a lot of the actors back then came from the theatre), but each episode was usually based on some philosophical question, rather than being one of the old theatre stories dressed up in scifi guise.
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Old 05-03-2014, 04:48 AM   #12
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Yes, I thought it followed from "horse opera" too. I think the idea behind both terms is that the setting is largely just a backdrop, and the story could be transposed to another setting without too much effort. I don't think that's really true these days, but they technologies behind the interstellar empires are often just taken for granted.

Space opera is anything with interstellar travel, alien races, and all that.

I'd recommend Iain Banks and Alastair Reynolds.
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Old 05-03-2014, 07:03 AM   #13
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Kevin J. Anderson "Saga of the seven suns". I've always thought of Space Opera as SciFi that easily could be Epic Fantasy if the setting was changed.
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Old 05-03-2014, 02:30 PM   #14
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Lots of good suggestions here. Thanks.

I love the Vorkosigan series and I'm glad she keeps the story fairly simple and not grow into a "save the universe" epic. I'm working my way through Jack Campbell's Lost fleet series on my Android. I did not know Elizabeth Moon had a Vatta series but I do enjoy the Legacy of Gurd/Sheepfarmers Daughter. Vatta's war is now on my to-be-read list.

Leviathan Wakes was one of the books at the gift shop. When I went to look it up on Amazon - it says I already purchased it. I love that Amazon/Kindle keep me from buying the same books twice. But I do miss seeing the cover-art on my bookshelf. Makes it hard to remember what I bought without the pictures. (I have a basic Kindle so it does not have the graphics like my wife's Fire.)

Great suggestions guys. Thanks.
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Old 05-09-2014, 04:30 PM   #15
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Interestingly enough the term "soap opera" got its start with Old Time Radio programs which (I believe) follow a similar format. They called them that because soap companies like Ivory etc. were the sponsors for the programs back in the day. And the term still sticks today in our 500+ channel video world.
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