What is space opera?

Recently, I was asked why I moved from military science fiction to space opera in my book series. The question surprised me actually. I did not realize that I’d done this. Had I?  To me, the two genres exist in a blurry realm for me: one cannot exist without the other and one just involves more explosions and soldiers. I envision this umbrella term of “space opera” and under it are all these categories like steampunk, cyberpunk, galactic empire, military sci-fi. My own impression is that it’s the opposite of hard science fiction (a genre that requires slide rulers to understand and I’m just not smart enough to follow.)  Space opera is so broad a term that it can mean just about anything and, in my opinion, includes all the other boxes that Amazon tries to impose as separate categories for books.

Had I?  To me, the two genres exist in a blurry realm for me: one cannot exist without the other and one just involves more explosions and soldiers. I envision this umbrella term of “space opera” and under it are all these categories like steampunk, cyberpunk, galactic empire, military sci-fi. My own impression is that it’s the opposite of hard science fiction (a genre that requires slide rulers to understand and I’m just not smart enough to follow.)  Space opera is so broad a term that it can mean just about anything and, in my opinion, includes all the other boxes that Amazon tries to impose as separate categories for books.

I have always envisioned this umbrella term of “space opera” and under it are all these categories like steampunk, cyberpunk, galactic empire, military sci-fi. My own impression is that it’s the opposite of hard science fiction (a genre that requires slide rulers to understand and I’m just not smart enough to follow.)  Space opera is so broad a term that it can mean just about anything and, in my opinion, includes all the other boxes that Amazon tries to impose as separate categories for books.

“Space opera” was coined as a term back in the 1940s as a play on the term “soap opera”.  And the original connotation was not a very flattering one, applied to melodramatic pulp stories with spaceships.

It did make me wonder who decided what category of book is what. Did they just all sit down one day and decide what to call what? Was there a symposium like the one where they decided Pluto may or may not be a planet? (I’m still confused by that, BTW.)

Here’s what really flips my wig. What we called science fiction in the 1800s would just be regular old fiction now.

Weird, right? Science fiction (no matter if it’s a space opera or not) has always been defined by the times that created it. Think about it. It’s writing a story using science that doesn’t exist yet. So, a few years (or decades) go by and then what you called fiction is suddenly real. For example, Star Trek predicted handheld wireless communication devices and tricorders. And here we are walking around with cell phone and smartphones.

Science fiction is a pretty big sandbox. There’s room for everyone to play. We use categories to help define tastes and better organize the stories. That way readers can locate books they might like. However, if you have outfits like Amazon coming up with subcategories, they’re making an arbitrary decision for the reader that will affect what books they’re shown as potentials which kind of sucks. But if you want to sell your books there, you have to categorize it as something.

Allies and Enemies has very strong military elements. The first book is about a purpose born female soldier. It is the lens through which she views the world. Divorcing her from that narrow field of vision introduces here to a broader universe. So, the series makes a natural progression from strictly military science fiction to space opera. If I’m true to the spirit of this character’s progress, the first book is military science fiction. The second and third books empty out into this larger world that’s more space opera. I agonized over the decision to continue to call Rogues and Exiles “military science fiction”. In the end, I decided to reflect the evolution of the story with the category on Amazon.


Also, just a quick mention: Allies and Enemies is now out as a box set on Amazon. (And it contains exclusive content!)