Space Opera Courts the Mainstream

Science fiction author and fan, Bob Tucker, coined the term Space Opera in back in 1941, perhaps as a deprecating term in the spirit of the horse operas and soap operas of the time. Eventually, it became the buzzword for pulp science fiction novels from the 1930’s and 1940’s, and the science fiction movies from the 1950’s.

Today, the term Space Opera brings to mind sweeping, character-driven tales of action and adventure on an epic scale. Originally, these stories were thought to lack much character development but that has changed, I daresay for the better, over the years.

When I mention a certain story set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” a single movie franchise will inevitably come to mind. Originally the brain child of one Simon Oliver, Star Wars was reworked and made into an epic hit by George Lucas and snowballed into an overnight phenomenon following its debut in 1977. The original trilogy, released between 1977 and 1983, garnered a cult following.

Though I’m not much of a fan of the prequels, I suppose the same could be said of the prequel trilogy released between 1999 and 2005. George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney back in 2012. Since then, the epic series has been injected with a new burst of life. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in December of 2015, has been a box office record smashing, global hit.

The other day, my landlord and I were talking about Star Trek and he mentioned Space Seed. This episode of Star Trek first aired in 1967. In the Space Seed episode, Captain James T. Kirk and crew encounter a sleeper ship full of enhanced humans who proceed to attempt to take over the Enterprise. The sequel to this episode came fifteen years later in the form of 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with amazingly enough, the same cast of actors playing aged versions of the characters from Space Seed.

Like Star Wars, the Star Trek television series and movies have spawned a phenomenal cult following. With the advent of the reboot movie series, Star Trek’s popularity has exploded, capturing the hearts of the mainstream and hardcore fans alike.

Some while ago, in “The Leviathans that Inspired Slumfairy”, I mentioned a television series called Farscape. I remember, late one night, coming across the awesome story of John Crichton, an astronaut who has somehow tumbled down the proverbial rabbit hole and winds up on the other side of a wormhole aboard a sapient, biomechanical ship named Moya, who is occupied by a bunch of escaped alien prisoners.

I was immediately hooked. Though it only lasted four seasons and perhaps didn’t quite achieve the cult following it deserved, Farscape earned three Saturn Awards for Best Syndicated/Cable TV Series between 2000 and 2002. Plus, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars received an Emmy Nomination for “Outstanding Special Visual Effects for A Miniseries, Movie or a Special.” in 2005.

Come 2016, we have a new space opera series that promises to break out into the mainstream. The Expanse is a space opera television series on Syfy, based on the series of novels by James S. A. Corey. Set in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, The Expanse follows several characters as they become entangled in a conspiracy that threatens to upset the tenuous balance of power that keeps Mars, Earth and the Belt from going to war.

Only seven episodes in, The Expanse has all of the makings of a cult hit. Personally, I’m all agog over this series. The science is solid. The special effects are amazing. The drama is real. Nothing is one hundred percent predictable. For one thing, you never quite know who is going to die next. No one is safe. I love that.

Of course, Star Wars, Star Trek, Farscape, and The Expanse are just a few of the amazing space opera series that have and captured the imaginations of casual genre fans to hardcore SF devotees alike. I haven’t even mentioned Battlestar Galactica or Lexx, plus I’m sure there are a ton more I’m forgetting.

More and more of the writers I hear about or talk to are experimenting with space opera. I just recently added Jacqueline Koyanagi’s “Ascension” and Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti” to my reading list. My Hegira series of short stories is also space opera. You can read these stories in The Lore of Hegira.

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