Space Opera seems to have a very liberal definition with a negative background. Apparently back in the ‘golden age’ of science fiction the stories were soap operas in space, thus in a fit of originality they were dubbed Space Operas. It was a term used to label ‘bad’ science fiction that didn’t really offer anything other than senseless drama. Throw in some cheesy keyboard music and we were one step away from porn apparently.
However, Space Opera doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad or cheap now. It can be a fun little hike into the social and personal relationships of characters as they journey through space, live peacefully, or blow some shit up in space. Some readers/writers, typically in the hard science fiction grey area, feel that if it isn’t Bruce Lee’s abs hard, it is space opera. I really don’t know how much I can agree with this sentiment because the lines are very blurry to me. If a science fiction story isn’t steeped in our understanding of how the universe works, then it isn’t hard? What about the most important part of a science fiction story, what about the ‘what if’ factor. If I want to read hard science fiction, I’ll go buy a physics book.
Twenty years from now scientists might make a break through in our understanding of the universe and it turn out that the warp drive from Star Trek is possible. Not only would nerds everywhere nerdgasm, it would change our fundamental understandings of power sources, time, and distances forever, granted it seems ridiculous right now. My point is that should we automatically dismiss a story based on how we understand things now? Our understanding is forever changing, daily if not hourly. Watch the PhD Comic here, we are still looking at the tail of the elephant, but we have no idea that it is an elephant. We just see one small piece of it.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein.
I recently read an article that labeled ten science fiction stories that are actually space fantasy, one of them being Dune. Granted Dune isn’t exactly scientifically marked for accuracy or even in the same universe of hard science fiction, it is still one of my favorite science fiction novels and has a close place to my heart. I think it is a bit unfair to cast this novel out into the void simply because it lacks solid scientific foundation. It isn’t like it is being worshiped as truth or anything, it is just a fun read. Who knows, we might discover a sandy planet with giant worms grazing the ground like maddened ravenous Gary Buseys. Is it likely, no, but it is still fun and that is what is important.