Space Opera sure has changed since I was young. And not for the good. I’m thinking about this genre lately because my work in progress, “Under the Ember Star,” is definitely a Space Opera. What is Space Opera, you ask? Primarily, it’s adventure fiction set in an SF universe with faster-than-light ships, exotic aliens both friendly and not, and star-spanning planetary alliances and empires. Characters are typically larger-than-life and freely express themselves with blasters and other SF hardware.
Star Trek, especially the original series, is Space Opera. Star Wars is Space Opera. Han Solo may be the quintessential Space Opera hero, with his bravado and his low-slung blaster. Space Opera is fun. Or at least it used to be.
I recently read a big thick book of so called “Military SF,” which is a form of Space Opera. The story was so weighed down with multiples on multiples of characters and political intrigue that I ended up scanning the last half and vowing never to read this author again. Then I started a collection of short stories called “The New Space Opera.” The “new” should have been a warning. The first story, while very well written and relatively entertaining, was a socio-cultural examination of two alien tribes in conflict. Ninety percent of it was essentially a narrator’s internal monologue. Say what?
I suppose if you read the story carefully you might be introduced to some deep thoughts about what it means to be human. Screw that, I say! Blow some shit up! Give us some smoking blasters. Give us some colorful exotic action. Let the characters move and breathe in an unfettered imaginary universe. I don’t want my SF to ape literary fiction.
Now, let me make one thing clear about my meaning here. Just because there is action and a plot that moves does not mean there can’t be character development and important insights into the human condition. But, at least for me, authors need to imbed that development and those insights in a matrix of adventure. Star Wars developed characters. Star Trek developed them. I just love reading about Kirk and Spock and McCoy. They are more real to me than any so called “literary” character ever. I’ve learned more from them about what it means to be human, and to strive to be a better human, than I’ve learned from all the literary fiction I’ve read in a lifetime. And I learned it because it was so damn much fun.
I can tell you one thing, “Under the Ember Star” ain’t going to be no “new” Space Opera. There’s even a chapter entitled “Smoking Blasters.” Things are gonna blow up in my story. Blood is gonna spill. There’ll be larger-than-life characters and cool items like hovercycles and plasma cannon. Cause if I can’t find it in the stuff being published today, I’m gonna have to write it myself.