Space opera

Cover of sci-fi magazine Imagination, June 1956

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera" and "horse opera",[1] the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games.

An early film which was based on space opera comic strips[2] was Flash Gordon (1936) created by Alex Raymond. In the late 1970s, the Star Wars franchise (1977–present) created by George Lucas brought a great deal of attention to the subgenre.[3] After the convention-breaking "New Wave", followed by the enormous success of the Star Wars films, space opera became once again a critically acceptable subgenre. Throughout 1982–2002, the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel was often given to a space opera nominee.[4]


Back cover of Galaxy #1, October 1950

Space opera is defined as an adventure science-fiction story.[5]

The term "space opera" was coined in 1941 by fan writer and author Wilson Tucker as a pejorative term in an article in issue 36 of Le Zombie, a science fiction fanzine.[6] At the time, serial radio dramas in the United States had become popularly known as soap operas because many were sponsored by soap manufacturers.[7] The term "horse opera" had also come into use to describe formulaic Western films. Tucker defined space opera as the science fiction equivalent: a "hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn".[8] Fans and critics have noted that the plots of space operas have sometimes been taken from horse operas and simply translated into an outer space environment, as famously parodied on the back cover of the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the stories were printed in science-fiction magazines, the stories were often referred to as "super-science epics".[9]

Beginning in the 1960s, and widely accepted by the 1970s, the space opera was redefined, following Brian Aldiss' definition in Space Opera (1974) as – as paraphrased by Hartwell and Cramer – "the good old stuff".[4]:10–18 Yet soon after his redefinition, it began to be challenged, for example, by the editorial practice and marketing of Judy-Lynn del Rey and in the reviews of her husband and colleague Lester del Rey.[4]:10–18 In particular, they disputed the claims that space operas were obsolete, and Del Rey Books labeled reissues of earlier work of Leigh Brackett as space opera.[4]:10–18 By the early 1980s, space operas were again redefined, and the label was attached to major popular culture works such as Star Wars.[4]:10–18 Only in the early 1990s did the term space opera began to be recognized as a legitimate genre of science fiction.[4]:10–18 Hartwell and Cramer define space opera as:

[...] colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.[4]:10–18

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中文: 太空歌劇