Monday, May 30, 2011

5 Essentials for Space Opera (tongue in cheek of course, but I mean every word)

 This was written for an online writer's group I'm in for science-fiction month. So, without any further ado...

  Space opera is the iconic sub-genre of science fiction for most people. Just mentioning the magic words “science-fiction” brings to mind images of lasers, starships, and colorful (though sometimes flat) characters. I’ve assembled my own personal list of 5 essentials to make a good space opera. Explanations may or may not appear. Starships are definitely an important part, but I couldn’t find room for them in the list.

#5: FTL FTW!
Translation please? FTL FTW is an acronym made of two separate acronyms that stands for the phrase “faster than light travel for the win.” That’s quite a mouthful there. More importantly, what does that mean? Well, one of the key elements of space opera is a big setting. That takes really, really fast travel methods to prevent you’re story from becoming the space version of a road trip without the quaint interesting little towns along the way. A pretty boring trip unless you like watching the constellations change shape.
            #4: Giant Super-weapons
  These monstrous symbols for man-kind’s ruthlessness and technological weapons improvement bring about high stakes and pulse-pounding adventure while oftentimes thumbing their nose at modern science (or treaties). Perfect for space opera, aye? Seriously though, space opera is all about being big and exciting. Plus, there are brownie points involved from the special effects, sometimes billions of dollars of profit. (Avatar anyone?)
            #3: Battered Freighters
  Maybe it has to do with the plucky underdog valiantly fighting better, more modern ships, but battered are almost a staple, nay, a cliché of the genre. Albeit, a lovable one, much like those scruffy rogues who pilot them. Or, perhaps, it’s the rogue that makes the ship. Nah, definitely the ship. Star Trek, in my opinion, is not that great of a space opera for several reasons, from boring costumes to not being all that fun for the whole family (a whole different post), plus the heroes were always flying a warship. Where’s the fun in that? Other than the vast firepower available of course.
            #2: Cocky Warrior Princess (and their hair-dos)
  The politically correct term would be strong, independent female leads. Isn’t that a bit boring? This archetype is almost as old as space opera itself, possible originating in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel  A Princess of Mars. Not to mention, Princess Leia’s iconic cinnamon bun hair-do has been forever ingrained as a cultural celebrity moment.
            #1: Aliens
 Aliens take the number one spot because of the color, variety, and imagination added to a story. Make them good, bad, ugly, slimy, or shimmering energy beings. Just make them unique and exotic. Nothing make’s a boring bar, excuse me, cantina scene more interesting than some two-headed aliens, a scary furry thing, and some other wildly creative aliens hanging about. Robert Heinlein’s  space operas were good, but they were a bit bland with the best aliens being primitive frog things on Venus. Not much to go on there.

Conclusion: The rule of cool either works really well for space opera, or was invented for space opera. Remember this list (but be creative) and you’re space opera will have a chance at becoming as memorable as Star Wars. Maybe.


  1. Varon, I was quoting you in the chat and Amanda thought I had just come off TVTropes. (That's a compliment)

  2. That is a compliment. Perhaps I should post this on HW.

    Did you tell her I wrote it?

  3. Great post! Bummer, though -- I only have two in my books (FTL FTW and battered freighter.)

  4. Thanks!

    At least two is better than none, with none at all, it gets pretty hard.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, it makes all the post-writing worth it.

  5. Oops, I really wish blogger has the "track your comments" feature wordpress has. Better late than never? Of course I told her!

  6. I think it Blogger has one, but it might need an account.

    Okay. That must have been a surprise.

  7. It was. I can't remember her response. Did you ever post this on HWSF? I don't recall seeing it. . . everyone would love it.

    Really? Where? I have an account, and I've been experimenting with it. The only useful thing about it is that I need to go to just one page to see all the latest posts on blogs I follow instead of having dozens of RSS feeds on my toolbar and checking all of them, like WP's "read your subscriptions."

    Blogger has been frustrating with comments. I've decided to go with the name/url option on blogger comments so that my name links to where I want people to go if interested in me, ie, my blog, instead of a blogger account that does a bad job of showcasing my blog. I was hoping having a blogger account would negate all those annoying "prove you're human" tests since I did one when I signed up, but apparently not.

    /blogger rant

  8. Yeah, it's in Tips, Help, and Suggestions but hasn't attracted much attention. It got drafted into a HW blog post at one point in the future.

    I think it's in the comment bok if posting a comment opens a new window, it might not work on my blog.

    The "prove you're human" tests depends on if the author turns them on. I don't have authentication on, or comment moderation, so there's no wait or annoying captcha tests.


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