I’ll admit, when it comes to speculative fiction, I lean much stronger toward the fantasy side of things so today’s post, dealing with some deep sci-fi subgenres, was fun to write — almost like discovering a new world.
We’re tackling space opera and hard science fiction. Both of these subgenres fall under science fiction. I’ve met many readers and authors who say the subgenres are getting too specific, but I’m delving into a few of them anyway. 😉
We’ve all heard the term soap opera. Well, space opera is a play on words, but I can guarantee you’ll enjoy space opera more than a soap opera. Can they even be compared? You could have melodramatic romance in “real-life” settings (ha!) or melodramatic romance in outer space with high-tech weapons, adventure, and special abilities.
Not even a question.
Now that we’ve established you should turn off your two-a.m. soap opera show (hypothetically, because none of us watch them, right? *wink*) and pick up a book, let me give you some more details:
Space opera leans toward the melodramatic, over-the-top story and characters. It emphasizes space travel and follows an adventure-style format. It can stray from what is realistic and doesn’t always stick to the laws that have been established in science fiction because the story emphasizes the characters more than the setting.
It’s actually difficult to define which books are classified as “space opera,” especially since the term has only been considered a legitimate subgenre of science fiction since the 1990s. So here are some examples:
- The Face of the Deep Series, by our very own Steve Rzasa
- Dune, by Frank Herbert (this one is controversial among fans whether or not it’s space opera, but I’m putting it anyway.)
- Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
- Triplanetary, by E. E. Smith (Lensmen Series)
Hard Science Fiction
The main defining phrase you need to remember for hard sci-fi is this: accurate science and technology. There you go, you’ve mastered hard sci-fi!
Okay, just kidding. We all know it wouldn’t be an amazing subgenre if it was that easy to master.
Hard sci-fi revolves around accurate science and detailed technology. Most everything about the story should be theoretically possible depending on the advance of our technology. This doesn’t mean the used science or technology has to be at play in our world today. It can be speculated technology (hence our glorious term, speculative fiction.) But it needs to make sense, as if it could actually happen. This allows a level of flexibility for the story, too.
Fear not, hard sci-fi also has…characters! And story! And plot! It’s not all science, but the characters aren’t usually the main focus of the story. Plot steals the show because it can develop all the details and scientific explanations that hard sci-fi fans eat up.
A lot of controversy covers the internet of what classifies as real hard sci-fi and I’m no expert. For example, many readers will say that FTL travel (that’s faster-than-light travel for those of you who — like me — didn’t know this acronym by heart) disqualifies a book from the hard sci-fi classification. Then there are those who accept it.
Readers will often try to find discrepancies in hard sci-fi books, a habit that Gary Westfahl called “the game.” I mean, why not read a book, stretch your science brain, and play a game all at the same time?
With that being said, here’s my attempt at a few book examples of hard sci-fi, but you may want to read them and play “the game” to be sure I’m classifying them correctly. [grin]
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
- Rendevous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
- 2001: A Space Oddyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke (really, most things by Arthur C. Clarke)
- Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
Do you have any book recommendations for space opera or hard sci-fi?