1. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Science Fiction Good Article on Space Opera

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Commandante Lemming, May 26, 2017.

    I know I tend to be the clanging bell around here always saying "Good Space Opera isn't bad Science Fiction just because it's not Hard SF."

    ...which is really funny thinking about it because I neither write nor read a ton of Space Opera (I am a huge Trekkie, though...)

    Anyway, Tor.com has a really good article by Emily Asher-Perrin asking what Space Opera is and specifically delving into the things that separate Space Opera from FANTASY (if the critique is that Space Opera are Fantasies in space, it's worth asking what Fantasy is and whether Space Opera really fits in that box.)

    Just figured I'd share, since I find these sorts of debates fascinating:
    http://www.tor.com/2017/05/19/is-space-opera-merely-fantasy-set-in-space-hint-no-of-course-not/
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    If Farscape and Battlestar Galactica are Space Opera, then I vastly prefer Space Opera to hard scifi... but then, I vastly prefer reading the back of the cereal box to most hard scifi I've encountered.

    I don't really understand the "fantasy in space" accusation... is this a real thing? Can anyone explain it to me?
     
  3. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    @BayView

    Star Wars is technically Fantasy in Space. The force is more magic than science.
    He-Man and She-Ra are pretty much nothing but Fantasy in Space.

    I think it comes from some Hard-Sci-Fi people that believe that only true Sci-fi
    is grounded with hard plausible (using the term lightly) science, that is explained
    in the story with great detail.

    War-Hammer 40K kinda blurs the lines from a little to a lot. But it is more of a
    Grim Dark Sci-Fi/Fantasy because of some of the crazy shit that goes on in that
    universe. (Also Orks) :D

    Basically it all relies heavily on the 'Science' aspect, and not the fantastical mystery
    stuff that kinda doesn't need an explanation to exist in the fiction. Space Opera is
    more in the middle, and seen as the free for all. (Or catch all, if you prefer)
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I see the Star Wars fantasy connection, but... maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on the illustrations for the article, but how are Farscape or Battlestar Galactica fantasy in space? And does Star Wars count as a space opera?

    Like, I understand the idea of fantasy in space, and I thought I understood the idea of space opera, but I don't understand treating fantasy in space and space opera as synonyms...
     
  5. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Farscape kinda just has fancy tech that is never really explained.
    Like the strange 2 part thing when Chrighton and that princess
    are turned to staues, and the whole communication thing, Kinda
    seems more like magic.

    But over all neither I would say is Fantasy. ( I have read Battlestar).

    Maybe it has something to do with the nitpicking of no sound in space? (Shrugs IDK)
     
  6. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    How in the name of Admiral Adama is Battlestar considered fantasy?
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Well, it was only the illustration... maybe they didn't really mean it...

    (Although all that All Along the Watchtower nonsense in the newer version was quasi-spiritual/magical, maybe?)
     
  8. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Digging out my Balzac Contributor

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    Right? Of all the Hendrix songs to survive the demise of humanity they picked that one? Barf-o-rama! I'd have gone with Machine Gun, Axis, or Hey, Baby but nobody asked me what I thought about it. Random BSG note, my dad and I had like a 90 minute conversation the other day on who would make a worse president, Trump or Gaius Baltar. We got really deep into it.
     
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  9. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    If Trump is having conversations with an invisible projection of his mind, a lot of what he says would make at least a little more sense than it currently does...
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm quite fond of Fantasy in Space, or Space Opera, and some of those TV shows are my favourites of all time. Farscape tops the list (but it's really about Earth, when you think about it—how would us earth people behave if we discover, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we are NOT alone?), and Firefly (the unbeatably fantasic characters), and the original Star Wars (my delight in seeing that first film for the first time is still unsurpassed in my moviegoing career) and the various Star Treks and Babylon 5 ...and I would enthusiastically add Battlestar Galactica to that list, except for the way the plot went off the rails.

    However, I am also a huge fan of hard Sci-Fi. Blade Runner. Alien. Survivors. (British TV series) Because that takes into account what is real today and what could be real tomorrow. I find exploring that to be fascinating.

    There is a difference though. I enjoy both. I think I prefer reading hard Sci Fi and watching Space Opera, though. For some reason, Space Opera works well on screen.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
  11. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    So can you explain the "fantasy" element of Farscape or Firefly or Star Trek? (I never watched Babylon 5 - did it have some magical/fantasy element to it?

    I get Star Wars. The Force, at least originally, was magic. But I'm not seeing the fantasy elements in the others...
     
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  12. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    A lot of handwaving went on in Farscape. Translator microbes? Even the cast used to make fun of that bit of 'magic—' which helped the show considerably when it came to everybody 'speaking' the same language. Great plot device, but.... They didn't even use it consistently.

    And there were lots of wild stuff—almost every episode—that happened on Farscape that didn't seem to be based on any kind of actual factual science. Huge empires clashed with other huge empires. Planets that contained only one or two species and even backward ones that seem to be a monoculture, with no real explanation of why that was so different to Earth.

    Farscape is my favourite TV show of all time, so these things don't matter to me. The underlying theme matters to me, and of course, the fates of all the characters. But I think most people don't regard Farscape as a hard-sci-fi show. Even the article quoted above shows a still scene from the episode 'Crackers Don't Matter.' So obviously the writer of that article thinks Farscape is Space Opera. It operated like a reverse A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court ...where the visitor was the one who came from the 'backward' culture and had to adapt.

    Firefly has been widely accepted as Cowboys in Space, and is not considered hard sci-fi either. Again, I love the show to bits.

    Babylon 5 got VERY mythological and magical and spiritual towards the end, although the basic starter premise was fairly believable. (In fact a good one—as some scientists think it would be more economical to develop space stations for colonies to live on, rather than attempting to terraform planets.)

    Here's another good, short article on the topic:
    https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/82223/difference-between-space-opera-and-science-fiction
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
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  13. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    No, I get the difference between hard sci-fi and space opera/soft sci-fi, and I agree that the shows i mentioned aren't hard sci-fi (after all, I liked them, which almost automatically means they're not hard sci-fi). It's just the "fantasy" element that I'm confused by.

    Are we saying that space operas pay so little attention to the science of things that their technology may as well be magic? Is that where the "fantasy" idea comes in?
     
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  14. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Not all who are lost wonder. Contributor

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    I think the line between Space Opera and Hard SciFi is

    Space Opera is about developing human characters in space.
    Hard SciFi is about how technology changes humanity.

    If we're making a list, I'd put Stargate and Cowboy bebop on the space opera side.

    ETA When I say human characters, I mean characters that we identify with. Like, even though its been 1000 years, and technology is super 'advanced' the people are still almost exactly like us somehow.

    ETAA: Now that I think about it, my definition doesn't entirely account for Hitchhikers guide... but then again it's probably a mistake to try and classify that anyways.
     
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  15. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Star Trek is probably the best example of where this sort of debate breaks out. It's designed to LOOK scientific but if you chisel at it, none of the science works. If you're coming at it from a HARD SF background, the first thing everyone picks on is faster than light travel, which most people now agree is impossible (although warp bubbles are actually theoretically possible...). Also there's humanoid aliens, and all the ships run on dilithium, which isn't a thing. That and the instrument panels blow up every time a torpedo hits the ship, and they explain away physics by referencing "inertial dampeners" (which are fragile enough to be failing every time the ship takes a hit, but never fail because the show doesn't have the budget to throw everyone against the back wall and kill them.)

    For someone who thinks Hard SF is the only SF, and that breaking or papering over scientific blocks is a crime against the art, Star Trek is even more blasphemous than Star Wars because it kind of pretends to be a lot more sciencey than it actually is (when really it's a classic Space Opera that's set in the near-ish future where tech is still tech rather than the far, far future where tech becomes pseudo-magic.)

    Personally I love Star Trek, but I'm also not a Hard SF guy most of the time, and while Star Trek does attract a headier, more science minded fan base, it's still a matter of "if you think this show is about science, you're missing the point."

    But some people think differently, we used to have a guy in my writing group who wrote Hard-ish SF and he was really adamant that SF had a responsibility and obligation to postulate what was genuinely likely to happen based on real science without breaking any rules, and that SF that doesn't do that isn't living up to the art form's role in society. Since we were both writing near futures, we went a few rounds on how SF is written and how my job is NOT to paint tech as accurately as I humanly can, because that's not my point. He got really annoyed when I told him that most SF by definition MUST break at least one scientific rule in order to work, and that even Hard SF usually breaks one rule and then spends the entire book painting over that lie with gobs of detail designed to fool readers with zero ability to suspend disbelief. In his case, he actually didn't have to break anything because he was a professional scientist postualting the immediate near term results of his own research, but most of us can't do that - especially not if we want the cool stuff that got us into the genre in the first place.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
  16. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    (Also these days, SF has moved to having more than two subgernes - so Military SF is in the middle. Cyberpunk and most other near futures are in the middle, etc. The only reason the question of Space Opera keeps coming up is that people contend it shouldn't be called Science Fiction at all.)
     
  17. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is just me speaking off the top of my head, but I wonder if the difference is that fantasy comes into it when the 'magic' or 'fortunate' technology exists to service the plot, rather than to postulate what advancements in science and/or exploration might actually yield.

    It was convenient for Farscape writers to adopt translator microbes, but nobody actually took that seriously, as a genuine scientific advancement. Being able to communicate with other species is a problem for Space Operas (or Space Fantasies ...which I more or less consider to be the same thing.) Some of these deal with the problems better than others. Some of them, like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, solve the problem by simply not including alien life in their stories at all.

    In the case of Firefly, they made that lack of alien life an amusing feature of the show ...remember the scene where Simon and Kaylee are looking at a jar supposedly containing a preserved 'alien,' and laughing because it was such an obvious fake? In the case of Battlestar Galactica, I found it one of the story elements that seemed less than believable, considering the number of planets the 13 colonies supposedly came from. They all seemed to have the same kind of flora and fauna that we do here on earth—and nothing else. Nothing new at all?
    I mean, they even eat sushi, for heaven's sake. And drink whisky? And drive jeeps.... Oh, don't get me started....

    Farscape's creators decided that rather than make a song and dance about it—such as learning new languages, having a translator on board who knows more than most, or creating some sort of linguistic machine—they would just handwave translator microbes, and job done. Dealing with alien life was crucial to their storyline and the reason for their story, so they had to come up with a way to portray contact in a TV series. Because they were the kind of show they were, the creators laughed it off and didn't go into the science behind the plot device. I respected them for that, and willingly suspended disbelief because I absolutely loved the series.

    Contrast that with the Replicants in Blade Runner. In fact, robots that are taught to behave like humans and to react to what humans say or do already exist. Creating them to service mining exploration in space? We already do have a space station, and nobody thinks that the technology to create a system to mine the moon or other nearby planets is impossible. Dealing with Replicants and the moral ambiguity surrounding them was the reason for Blade Runner. Replicants weren't just a piece of convenient 'technology' (or magic) to service an entirely different kind of plot.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
  18. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    I'm going to disagree a little with using technological explanations as the cut off between science (speculative) fiction and fantasy. There are many great time travel novels and movies that I consider to be science fiction, even though they involve a time machine without explaining very well, or at all, how it would work.

    What I remember most about H.G Well's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful The Time Machine is not so much how I might visit the future, but the dark predictions Wells makes about humanity, that I think make a lot of sense and certainly could fit in a model that includes our present.

    The Spanish film Time Crimes, offers a keen perspective on time travel loops that I would argue is very intellectual.

    So what is science fiction? What makes it different from fantasy?

    Fantasy is outfits that look cool and weapons that are going to make you cry. It defies history and science so that you can enjoy a wild ride.

    Science fiction (and alternative history) due not blatantly ignore reality so much as that they perturb them. They make a specific incision into the reality as we know it (past, present, or speculative future) and try their best to examine how things would be once that incision is made. It's almost a thought experiment.

    Quickest way to differentiate is to look at both motive and method.

    Fantasy:
    Motive: fun. Method: ignore reality.

    Science fiction:
    Motive: speculation. Method: Introduce a specific an intentional change on an otherwise normal system.
     
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  19. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    2p.png

    I think the lines of definition can get drawn in lots of places, and like any community of people that wraps itself within a term (here, Sci-Fi fans), within that community there are endless subcultures that care about this, that or the other thing more than others, with all the permutations inherent when there is overlap, lack of overlap, etc.

    There's little argument within the community when it comes to Star Wars. Trade C3PO and R2D2 for an Elf and a Dwarf and voila, Fantasy complete with magic (the Force), knights, princesses, battling kingdoms, and lookie there, even fancy schmancy swords. But why might Farscape and BSG be thought of as Fantasy by some within the community? Perhaps the overarching tone and feel of the stories. Never mind the realism of the science in play (a whole section of fans just got triggered by that statement). Buck Rogers is quite an old franchise and comes from a time when the line between Fantasy and Science Fiction was still pretty broad and blurry, so it's got some major story elements that have a strong kinship with Star Wars. The Draconians (cheesiest name ever) as the baddies and the constant comparison between how things are in the future to how things were in the past. Farscape has elements that make it hard to logic why the baddies are baddies and make it clear that they simply need to be there in order for the story to move forward. The reboot of BSG took the spiritual elements of its predecessor and made them "factual" within the scope of the story. The gods of the 13 colonies became real in the tell of the tale and there are beings that clearly reincarnate across time and space and are possibly what we today engage as angels. You don't really find these kinds of things in Science Fiction outside of Space Opera (and defo not present in all of Space Opera) because the non-Space Opera stories tend to be smaller in scope and are less in need of these broad brushes that are being borrowed from the easel of Fantasy.

    *shrug*
     
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  20. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Well this may be a bit off topic, but there you're also hitting on a question about Fantasy - and in a lot of cases Fantasy is deeply speculative and sometimes labelled as under the umbrella of "Spec Fic." There are a ton of SciFi/Fantasy writers who do both (George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, etc. etc.). I want to say it was Sanderson that said for him both were speculative about society, the question being the method of extrapolation: SF using technology to postulate developments that are evolutionary, and Fantasy using magic to flat-out break the laws of physics and then see how society would develop in a world where the basic rules of nature are very different. I know he also plays a lot of science games inside his fantasy universes (one of his high fantasies is set on a planet with no axial tilt and the science of that is very carefully extrapolated - even though most readers probably will never realize that's why the seasons are messed up.) There's also a question about whether NK Jemisin's world in The Fifth Season, arguably today's leading literary high-fantasy world, is actually Far-Future SciFi set on Earth (a good bit of it is purposefully left undefined).

    The extrapolation point is probably especially true of high fantasy, but speaking from experience, if you're writing Urban Fantasy, the RULES of magic need to be really well defined (I know way more about how my Valkyries catch on fire than I need to, and still need to define their limits) - because for your main character, magic is part of nature and it's going to have a pseudo-scientific component. I think the craziest urban-fantasy universe I've ever seen was Michael Rutherford's Geekomancy universe (where fandom is literally magic), but that magic system was very carefully built and explained.

    Of course, that also gets into the question of where the line is between capital-F Fantasy in the Tolkeinian tradition (where magic has a system and rules) and other genres that use magic more capriciously, like Magical Realism and Supernatural Horror (in both of those cases the magic is often random, and usually the protagonist is the target rather than the wielder of said magic).
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
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  21. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In Magic Realism, I would argue that the word Magic is a bit of a misnomer in that using it makes us want it to somehow fit our usual take in the matter. I just saw the film Perfect Sense the other day, which is clearly Magic Realism, but what happens in that story isn't magic at all. It's a bit like the blindness that afflicts the characters in the story Blindness by Saramago. It's simply an inexplicable occurrence, an intrusion of un-reality into the realms of reality. I'm splitting hairs, I know, and exemplifying the very subculture nature that I noted earlier in this thread, but I too am a fan of these realms, just as subject to the description I gave as anyone else. In Magic Realism, you're not supposed to try to contextualize the un-real element. Its nature is that it cannot be contextualized and its purpose is to say something about the person or people it affects.
     
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  22. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    So it would make sense to see Science Fiction as the largest umbrella, then Space Opera as a subcategory of SF, and "Fantasy in Space" as a subcategory of SO?
     
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  23. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think that's fair, yes. I'm reading the books right now upon which the show The Expanse is based, which are absolutely Space Opera, but they don't fall (or have not yet fallen) into the further subcategory of "Fantasy in Space".
     
  24. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    In general, I'll go along with this. (I suppose there are always exceptions, so I never say always. :))

    What I like about sci-fi is that it examines where we are probably headed—if we continue to do what we're doing, or intensify something we're doing, or if something we're doing now goes unexpectedly haywire, or there is a new discovery made using science as we already understand it. I certainly didn't get that sort of outlook with Star Wars. That was just a fun show—and it could have played itself out in just about any setting. Different kinds of tyranny, different vehicles, etc.

    However, a few of the other space operas did make me think about certain aspects of life as we know it. Star Trek, Farscape, Babylon 5 etc. They all made an attempt to play with what might actually be 'out there.' And to date, we don't have a clue, and anything could actually be the case. But while the themes of exploration, negotiation, acceptance of 'the other' can be applied to life as we know it, the technologies they use in these shows simply aren't there—and there isn't a serious attempt to get you to believe they are. Handwaving is the key.

    It's not so much telling you something you simply won't believe (like magic or mythology, which is fun but we know it doesn't exist) but it's telling you something that might be true in some distant universe (although there is no present scientific basis for it) or in some kind of scientific world we aren't aware of yet—but the authors are hoping you won't dig into the concept too far. Just accept the technology, the alien life and weird telepathic stuff as 'real' for the duration of the story. To me, that's fantasy. Nothing wrong with it, but it's not science—fictional or not.

    I think I'd put Time Travel into a separate subcategory of Sci-Fi. It might well deal with today's reality (or yesterday's) or take on a speculative future. But the means for doing it just aren't there, and there is no scientific explanation as to how this 'travel' would work. Folks have to accept the fantasy concept It Can Be Done Somehow, in order to explore whatever issues the author wants us to explore. Fine stuff, but it's not science. Is it?
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
  25. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I could go with that, I guess. There may be other subcategories as well. But who cares? They're all fun! And some of them truly do make you think. Even the fantasies.
     
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