Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Opera

O is for Opera, space opera, that is. ;) A space opera is an adventure set in outer space or on distance planets and has an emphasis on action. Star Wars might be considered space opera, for example. When most people think about science fiction (SF), they think of space opera.

Not to say that opera itself isn't interesting. In fact, one of my fellow SHU WPF students is writing a novel set in the opera world ("Hi, Julie!").

What can I say? I love space opera and all the other sub-categories of SF.

Unfortunately, SF can be a bit difficult to categorize. What exactly is it? I've heard several experts say "I know it when I see it." (Also known as the pornography defense.)

Wikipedia says, "Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting." Hhm... I bet we can all think of exceptions to this definition.

Orson Scott Card’s rule of thumb is “If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it’s science fiction. If it’s set in a universe that doesn’t follow our rules, it’s fantasy.”

SFWA Grand Master James E Gunn, said, "Science fiction is the literature of the human condition experiencing meaningful change." in my 2007 Interview. Very nice, Professor Gunn! Let's go with this. :)

SF encompasses many subgenres. Besides space opera, there's hard SF (more on this below), and soft/social SF--works based on social sciences, e.g. fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. There's Cyberpunk, near-future very technological SF, often with an anti-hero--William Gibson's Neuromancer defines the subgenre. There's Time travel, of which H.G. Wells The Time Machine is the most famous example and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a buzzier example.

There's Alternate History (stories based on the premise that historical events might have turned out differently) and the closely-related Steampunk, in which advanced steam-engine-level technology existed in the past. A classic example of Alternate History would be The Man in the High Castle by Philip D. Dick. And there's Military SF, such as Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and John Scalzi's Old Man's War.

There's also Dystopian SF, stories set in a usually futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state; the most famous dystopian novels are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. According to the-powers-that-be, the hottest subgenre right now is Dystopian SF, because of run-away hits such as The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. If the upcoming movie(s) is successful, this will only increase the buzz. Dystopian SF should not be confused with Apocalyptic or Post-Apocalyptic SF. In the former the repressive society is imposed by the state or society, in apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels, the state and society have broken down and essentially no longer exist. Buzzy examples of post-apocalyptic novels are The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

A while ago, I blogged about Hard SF according to the experts, Stanley Schmidt, David G. Harwell and Kathryn Cramer. They had a lot of very interesting stuff to say, so check that out.

I guess what I'm trying to say with this overview of SF is, there's something for everyone! Authors can basically write about anything they like under the SF umbrella. In fact, Doris Lessing, 2007 Nobel Laureate in Literature said, in response to critics, "What they didn't realize was that in science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time" ("Doris Lessing: Hot Dawns"). Science fiction enables us to study and enjoy the human condition with no restraints whatsoever.

And, finally, we can't leave a discussion of SF without mentioning the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), pronounced "siff-wah" by those in the know--which I found out the hard way at WorldCon one year.

SFWA is the premiere professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres and informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for its members. They host the prestigious Nebula Awards, assist members in legal disputes with publishers, and administer benevolent funds for authors facing medical or legal expenses. Check them out!


  1. Very interesting! I'm glad I found your blog. I'm stopping by from the A to Z challenge and I look forward to reading more from you.